Musicians allege age discrimination in Southwest Michigan Symphony

In this July 28, 2018, photo, Susan Dietrich-Reed and her husband, Steven Reed, pose in downtown Benton Harbor, Mich. The two musicians of the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra resigned after receiving disciplinary action that they allege are based on their ages. The Reeds each have been members of the orchestra for four decades. They quit in June. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP)

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) — Two musicians with the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra have resigned after receiving disciplinary action that they allege was based on their ages.

Cellist Susan Dietrich-Reed and husband and trumpet player Steven Reed are alleging age discrimination by the orchestra after receiving musical deficiency letters, the Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph reported. The Reeds had been members of the orchestra for four decades, but they quit in June.

The Reeds were among two of six people to receive such warning letters, five of whom were age 65 and older.

Orchestra Director Sue Kellogg denied the age discrimination allegations to WSJM-FM . She said the Reeds chose to resign rather than go through with an evaluation process.

An unnamed orchestra member also resigned with the Reeds after receiving the letter. The other three have agreed to the terms outlined, Kellogg said.

“We value, respect and appreciate all of our musicians and all ages and backgrounds, and can assure you that no discrimination has taken place,” she said.

Steven Reed’s letter said he failed to blend with other players in the section and came in late to solos.

He said he doesn’t need the hassle of the evaluation procedure.

“My impression is that it is a form of discrimination,” Reed said.

Once an orchestra member receives a warning letter, a meeting is held with the music director to discuss issues. The musician will then perform in a trial period of several concerts, followed by a letter reviewing those performances. The musician can appeal the second letter, if negative, to a peer-review committee of orchestra musicians. The peer committee has the power to overrule the music director’s decision.

The Reeds have been in contact with their union, American Federation of Musicians Local 232, and have consulted with a private attorney whose specialty is discrimination, but they see little legal recourse at this time.

Steven Reed believes the disciplinary action was punishment for he and his wife’s roles in the labor union, WSJM-FM reported. Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra is negotiating with the American Federal of Musicians on a new contract.

The Reeds were union leaders who brought musicians’ complaints to management.

“It struck me that we’re the messengers, we’re gonna shoot the messengers,” he said. “And we’re gonna include them with these other musicians too who all happen to be over the age of 65.”