SIGNIFICANCE: Redgrave v. Boston Symphony Orchestra

Case Name: Redgrave v. Boston Symphony Orchestra
Citation: 855 F.2d 888 (1st Cir.1988)
Topics: Content/Viewpoint NeutralityContracts

The actress Vanessa Redgrave brought suit against the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for canceling a contract for her appearance as narrator in a performance of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex." BSO cancelled the performance in response to public protest over Redgrave's participation because of her support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Redgrave sought recovery for:

  • Breach of contract for the cancellation of her performance;
  • Violation of her civil rights under The Massachusetts

On the breach of contract claim, Redgrave was ultimately rewarded damages in the amount of her stipulated performance fee plus damages for loss of future professional opportunities by potential employers.


However, Redgrave did not prevail on the MCRA claim. The MCRA provides for a private right of action against any person who interferes by “threats, intimidation or coercion” with the exercise of another person’s rights secured by the constitution United States. (See Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 12, § 11H (1984)). The court ruled that the BSO’s cancellation of the concert was itself an exercise of free speech. Namely, the right to be free from compelled expression.

The Court noted that the MCRA is an unusual statute because it creates a private cause of action for the suppression of speech by one private individual or entity of another, whereas the right to free speech traditionally applies only in relation to state action.

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