One of the senior elected officials at the union that commissioned an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against opera star Plácido Domingo has resigned. Samuel Schultz, a baritone singer and now a former vice president of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), is accusing the union, which represents opera performers, of trying to create a "sweetheart deal" with the famed singer and of trying to bury the investigation's findings in return for a $500,000 settlement.
Schultz also confirmed in his resignation letter that he had provided details of AGMA's Domingo investigation to reporter Jocelyn Gecker of The Associated Press. He wrote: "Without [Gecker's] tenacious reporting, Domingo's abuses of female AGMA members would never have come to light even though he harassed women in plain view for decades. And issues about endemic sexual harassment in the operatic world would also not have come to light, leaving our members vulnerable to victimization by powerful predators like Domingo."
After the AP published its report about the Domingo investigation in the early hours of last Tuesday, Domingo and his team walked away from a planned $500,000 settlement with the union. NPR was the first media outlet to report on that failed settlement and Schultz was one of NPR's sources in that reporting, as well as for our reporting on the AGMA investigation into Domingo.
AGMA's outside counsel, attorney Susan Davis, told NPR on Monday that Schultz' actions "blew up" AGMA's intentions in investigating and substantiating the allegations against Domingo, and negotiating a settlement with the famed singer. "At great expense," Davis says in an interview with NPR, "AGMA hired a very credentialed investigator who went out and spoke to many witnesses who didn't come, and wouldn't have come, forward to employers, and put together a narrative of what has been happening over decades."
If Schultz hadn't spoken to the press, Davis adds, "We would now have a structural solution to a structural problem. Instead, by blowing this up, what we have been left with is no choice but to proceed to a disciplinary hearing where witnesses may or may not appear, where even if there is a fine imposed, it's unclear whether Domingo would consensually pay it. It is unclear whether he's even going to show up in a hearing. And we now have had what I think was an extraordinary solution to an extraordinarily big problem by a big harasser. We're now left with a path of uncertainty because this has been blown up by one member of the board who chose to disregard his fiduciary responsibilities."
In the aftermath of the failed settlement, Domingo walked back a public apology, saying: "I have never behaved aggressively toward anyone, and I have never done anything to obstruct or hurt anyone's career in any way."
Schultz addressed his resignation letter to AGMA's president, Raymond Menard, and to its national executive director, Leonard Egert. Schultz wrote in part: "Contrary to the statements that Len [Egert] made publicly, you both presented the AGMA board of governors with a settlement agreement that you and AGMA's lawyers negotiated with lawyers for Plácido Domingo ... You repeatedly emphasized when presenting the arrangement that AGMA's agreement not to release the details of the report was a crucial term of the settlement agreement for Domingo ... This is a quid pro quo — silence in exchange for money."
Within his resignation, Schultz also referred to an email signed by Menard and Egert sent early Tuesday to the union's officers and board of governors, which NPR obtained and reported upon last week. In that email, the AGMA officials wrote in part: "Domingo's counsel has withdrawn the agreement, which was expressly premised on AGMA's promise to maintain confidentiality over the details of the investigatory report."
However, in an interview with NPR last Tuesday evening, Egert insisted that the $500,000 had never been contingent upon the investigation's confidentiality, and instead referred to it as a negotiated disciplinary fine.
In speaking with NPR again on Monday, Egert says: "I think Mr. Schultz pointing to one line of a summary email is not fair to us — to AGMA, to president Menard or to myself. We were discussing an entire settlement package — the fines, the suspension, coaching, etc. — that was going to be reported out to the membership."
Egert continues, "The board voted and agreed that the conclusions of the report would be sent to our membership, as well as the details of the settlement agreement."
In August 2018, Schultz accused another opera star, the countertenor David Daniels, and Daniels' husband, William "Scott" Walters, of drugging and raping him. Those allegations led to an indictment of both men in Harris County, Texas on felony charges of sexual assault in July 2019.
Schultz ran for AGMA office last year specifically on a platform of keeping the union and its signatories accountable regarding sexual harassment and misconduct. "No more cover-ups, no more looking the other way, no more silence," he wrote in his campaign message.
In his resignation letter submitted Monday morning, Schultz also wrote: "As a sexual assault survivor myself, my conscience would not allow me to be a party to an agreement than allowed the union to bury the details of Domingo's decades-long abuse of female AGMA members and that created a path for him to return to the stage after a short suspension ... When AGMA works only for its most powerful (and sometimes predatory) members and refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of victims' voices, it has failed its membership."
That's false, Egert tells NPR on Monday. "What the AGMA board decided, after being fully given all the facts and circumstances of the investigation, including the details, was to approve this spectrum of discipline on Mr. Domingo. They did that for multiple reasons. The fine that was to be imposed on Mr. Domingo was, to our knowledge, one of the largest fines imposed on a union member. It was specifically earmarked to go to new initiatives to prevent sexual harassment in opera and related industries."
Speaking to NPR, Schultz said that Egert and Raymond told the union's leadership that another facet of the planned suspension would be an 18-month probation, which would be retroactive to last fall — when AGMA launched its investigation and, soon after, Domingo resigned as general director of LA Opera in October 2019. Multiple other sources confirmed that element of the agreement, as did Egert on Monday afternoon in speaking to NPR.
Schultz says that he felt that revealing himself as the source of the AP's reporting was his only path forward. "I refuse to lie," he says. "I've seen these predators, including in Domingo's retraction of his apology last week — continue to lie. If I lie now, I would be exhibiting the same behavior that I am fighting so hard against."
Davis says that regardless of Schultz's motivations, the actions he took have enormous impact on the entire union. "When someone agrees to sit on the board of the union, a union's highest governing body, they agree to act as a body. The board acted here — but because of the actions of one individual, their virtually unanimous action has now been destroyed and unraveled."
Egert adds, "I admire [Schultz's] advocacy on behalf of victims. I have to say that I think he was short-sighted here, in doing what he did and breaching his duties to AGMA, because this is going to have an impact on the victims. Unfortunately, now we're left in a position of processing and litigating these charges, and that's going to have a direct impact on victims who wanted to remain anonymous. And I really don't believe he was thinking this through when he acted in violation of the union's rules."
Schultz says that even though he's removing himself from the union, he will "continue to stay in this industry discussion about sexual misconduct. I'll continue to fight. But I can't do it within an immovable institution. I want nothing to do with that deceit."
In the AGMA matter, Schultz is being represented by attorney Debra Katz, who also represents three women who have made accusations against Domingo: singers Patricia Wulf (the first woman to come forward publicly) and Angela Turner Wilson, as well as one other woman who has not come forward by name. Katz and Schultz call the failed negotiations with Domingo a "sweetheart deal."
As he did in speaking with NPR last week, Egert again strongly disputes that idea. "This settlement that was approved by the board was never meant to be a secret deal. It's just false to say that this was some sweetheart deal," he says. "It was in the best interests of our entire membership. And we were releasing what we could release with the paramount objective of protecting the witnesses. That has been, and continues to be, the biggest problem of the culture of opera. The culture of secrecy is that people are afraid to come forward."