Actor Responds to Apple's Bid to Dismiss His Suit Over COVID Shot Policy

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Former "Deadwood" actor Brent Sexton has responded to Apple LLC's motion to dismiss on free-speech grounds his lawsuit alleging the company cost him nearly $600,000 by denying him a starring role in a new series, saying no sincere effort was made to accommodate his objection to taking the coronavirus vaccine.

Sexton's Los Angeles Superior Court disability discrimination suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Apple attorneys previously filed a motion under the state's anti-SLAPP -- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

"If allowed to proceed, Sexton's suit threatens to create a judicially recognized limit on motion picture and television producers' First Amendment right to free speech by forcing them to sacrifice artistic expression in order to avoid meritless employment and privacy lawsuits such as the instant action," the Apple lawyers argue in court papers filed with Judge Michael P. Linfield, who is scheduled to hear the anti-SLAPP motion on Sept. 26.

But according to a sworn declaration submitted by Sexton on Wednesday, the actor has a longtime disability that includes blood clots, and so he could not take a coronavirus vaccine. He said he asked for an accommodation based on that disability that was sanctioned by an agreement between Apple Studios and the Screen Actors Guild.

"I have been an actor for many years," Sexton says. "Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had never been required to get an injection as a condition of a role. I viewed the vaccination requirement as a serious invasion of my privacy rights, my right to bodily autonomy."

In February 2022, Sexton submitted a self-tape audition to play President Andrew Johnson on "Manhunt," a miniseries that Apple Studios is producing, which focuses on the U.S. government's search for President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Sexton, now 56, was granted the role a week later and Apple offered him a deal worth nearly $600,000 and incentives with a seven-episode minimum, the suit states. But after accepting the deal, Sexton was told he would have to comply with the vaccination policy despite its potential negative impact on his longtime medical problem, the suit states. He requested an accommodation for regular coronavirus testing and included a note from his doctor in support, the suit adds.

Apple allegedly did not question the legitimacy of Sexton's request, but denied his accommodation request within 48 hours and withdrew the job offer.

Sexton says he has worked on other productions in which companies allowed him to avoid taking the shot on condition he had a combination of testing, masking and social distancing.

"There were no issues, Sexton says. "My presence did not create an undue burden for any of the productions."

Sexton further contends that Apple's alleged refusal to accommodate him has caused the actor "significant financial and emotional harm from which he has yet to recover. He also says he did not politicize the issue.

According to Sexton's suit filed May 22, Apple corporate and retail store employees were not required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus if they underwent required testing, but Apple Studios "trampled the rights" of those who worked for the Los Angeles-based subsidiary that produces content for Apple's new streaming service, Apple TV+.

Anyone who worked on an Apple TV+ production was required to get the shot and submit proof, the suit states.

Sexton believes the subsidiary "bowed to pressure from the entertainment industry, one of the most aggressive proponents of universal COVID vaccination," according to the suit.

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