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38 minutes ago, Helene said:

Intention has nothing to do with the legal definitions of hostile in hostile work environment

I think what's legal or not is a side issue, beside the point. The question at the heart of the matter here, at the heart of why this firing is controversial, is what the  appropriate way is to deal with an unwanted comment. What's legal should follow from that. But to say that intention shouldn't matter legally is like saying that "please" in a joking voice and "please" in a threatening one should be heard in the same way. It's a willful lowering of understanding, in my opinion. It's unnatural. It serves no good purpose and gets people fired for going too far when no harm was intended. 

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I'm having difficulty understanding why it's so hard to grasp that making sexist or sexual jokes at work is inappropriate in the same way   

Sexist jokes are in another category - they demean by mocking people for their gender or implying they are inferior for their gender. Copely's joke may have been inappropriate, but there is no indication he meant to demean, and some people would probably have been flattered even if they were discomfited. Should people be fired for every inappropriate thing they do? That's like saying people should be fired for any mistake. ETA: Why should the chorister have felt demeaned?

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52 minutes ago, nanushka said:

I don't see why the guy couldn't have objected in some other way, either. But I don't know the guy, I don't know his past, I don't know anything about him, and so I don't judge his reaction, assuming that he acted within his rights.

If the Met were to tolerate Copley's remark (and, again, I don't think firing Copley was necessary to show that they did not), it would communicate to everyone, basically, "This is a workplace in which people in power have the right to sexually objectify you rather than dealing with you based on your professional merits. If you want to continue working here, that's the environment in which you will have to work." It's not a question of getting fired, it's a question of workplace culture and what that says about the basic "rules of the game."

And yes, to my mind it is demeaning to be sexually objectified in a professional context, where what should matter is one's professional work, not the fact that a man or woman in power finds you sexually attractive. Copley's stature matters, in my mind, not because it makes his comment more or less demeaning but because, if it were tolerated by the Met, the institution would be suggesting that people with power or stature can get away with such things. Basically, Copley's stature matters, in my mind, because, as another member wrote on this topic above:

"Hostile work environment" is a common phrase from labor law; personally, I use it in reference to the case at hand not because Copley's remark was "hostile" in the literal sense, but just because it's a phrase many people know and use in this particular way. I completely understand if anyone finds the phrase to be literally inapt; perhaps it is. I am using it in its conventional, legal sense.

That's good of you not to judge his reaction, but we're judging Copely's action. I don't know what the difference is. Just because one person acts badly, that doesn't mean the other person's reaction can't be bad, whether it's within his legal rights or not. But perhaps this guy really was traumatized (harmed) by Copely's remark. I feel for him then, but that doesn't mean he needed to be. That doesn't mean his was a reasonable reaction Copely should have anticipated. 

I'm not arguing that the Met had to tolerate an inappropriate his remark, and not that Copely because of his statute should have gotten away with it if it bothered anyone. The Met could have asked for - demanded, if it came to that - an apology. Nor do we have any indication that Copely's finding the chorister's attractive in any way impacted the work Copely gave him to do. In other words, it was apparently incidental. 

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1 hour ago, kfw said:

I don't take issue with that definition, but why should we assume it describes the situation here? I don't see why the guy couldn't have objected - politely, humorously, angrily . . .  whatever, when the comment was made. Or done it later, if he didn't have the presence of mind at the time. Why would that have got him fired? Obviously he didn't think it would, or he wouldn't have gone straight to management without even getting the union on his side. 

I also don't know why Copely's stature in the opera world would make his comment demeaning or any more demeaning, or just anymore in bad taste. Nor do we know that everyone thought it was truly in bad taste (we don't know context or tone of voice or the tenor of his relationship with the choir and with this chorister, if any, or the general reaction in the room). Is it demeaning to be found attractive? 

Helene, that "imposes" is a big word for what was apparently just a bad joke. This remark was probably inappropriate, but there is no indication it was hostile. 

"I also don't know why Copely's stature in the opera world would make his comment demeaning or any more demeaning"  This is all about power.

Shift the genders in your first paragraph, so that he's making that remark to a woman who works for him, someone whose career he can control, and see how sanguine you feel about -- how jolly the whole thing is.

You're asking the person who is being abused to fix the situation ("I don't see why the guy couldn't have objected..."), in part because Copley is important, and the other person is not.

"Nor do we know that everyone thought it was truly in bad taste "  So it only counts if everyone in the room is offended? 

 

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49 minutes ago, kfw said:

But perhaps this guy really was traumatized (harmed) by Copely's remark. I feel for him then, but that doesn't mean he needed to be.

I really don't know what it would mean to say, "I know that person was really traumatized just now. I feel for him. But he didn't need to be." Maybe I could imagine saying that if I knew the person in question well enough to know that he or she was just being self-centered and had more or less consciously decided to play up being traumatized and even maybe really ended up feeling that way. But if I didn't know the person well enough to know that — if I didn't know the person at all — I don't know what it would mean to say that.

Edited by nanushka

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39 minutes ago, nanushka said:

I really don't know what it would mean to say, "I know that person was really traumatized just now. I feel for him. But he didn't need to be." Maybe I could imagine saying that if I knew the person in question well enough to know that he or she was just being self-centered and had more or less consciously decided to play up being traumatized and even maybe really ended up feeling that way. But if I didn't know the person well enough to know that — if I didn't know the person at all — I don't know what it would mean to say that.

This is a difficult question and situation that involves grabbling with a lot of ideas. At least for me, and I deeply appreciate everyone's thoughtful comments. 

I'd like to throw a thought I had into the mix. Back in the day when I was a dancer, a former dancer frequently came to teach company class and set ballets. I won't mention his name but he is well known in dance circles. A lovely, fun, generous man whose way of correcting was to imitate a mistake, exaggerate it and gently poke fun. The person being corrected couldn't help but laugh, and everyone else laughed too. This teacher was the type of person everyone loved to hang out with after class and btwn rehearsals, and you remembered his corrections because he looked so funny imitating you. He treated everyone the same, no one was singled out as his "unfavored" or his pet. Let's just say (I don't think this ever happened) that a dancer took offense at his imitation, and even said he/she felt humiliated. How much weight would/should be given to that person's feelings? Would it be called a hostile work environment in which people were "ridiculed?"

I know I am not talking about sexual statements, but I am trying to sort this all out in my own mind. 

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sandik, Copely had no control over that chorister’s career. He probably had no control even over whether he sang in that production, nor was the remark in any way a demand. He also spoke man to man, not man to woman, in the context of the whole ugly history of men mistreating women sexually and otherwise. Relative stature between director and chorister doesn’t enter into it, I don't believe – they’re both human beings. If someone who is basically decent offends you, the decent thing to do is to give him a chance to apologize, not to get him fired. Sometimes if an issue looks like it’s all about power, that’s because we’ve been trained to view it through the lens of power and only through the lens of power. That’s an impoverishment of human relations, in my opinion.

nanushka when I said “really traumatized” I meant really traumatized, not self-centered and self-aggrandizing. Having said that, if society drums into people that every tasteless remark is by definition an abusive one, people are going to feel traumatized by a tasteless remark. It’s possible the guy deserves sympathy, but still got it wrong.

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2 minutes ago, kfw said:

nanushka when I said “really traumatized” I meant really traumatized, not self-centered and self-aggrandizing. Having said that, if society drums into people that every tasteless remark is by definition an abusive one, people are going to feel traumatized by a tasteless remark. It’s possible the guy deserves sympathy, but still got it wrong.

I don't understand how one can "get it wrong" if one is genuinely just reacting, not deciding to react in a certain way.

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42 minutes ago, vipa said:

Let's just say (I don't think this ever happened) that a dancer took offense at his imitation, and even said he/she felt humiliated. How much weight would/should be given to that person's feelings? Would it be called a hostile work environment in which people were "ridiculed?"

Hostile work environment has a legal meaning.  Someone could try to make a case that this creates a hostile environment, if they were willing to spend the money.  I don't know if there's any precedent for it. 

I don't think firing Copely was the only choice, but it is a very understandable one given the context in which it was made.  You have Met management and Board who have been called out on the table for knowing for at least a year that someone came forth with allegations of having been abused by James Levine, and which at best inherited an organization that used Met money to settle with the families of other boys who also said they were abused by Levine.  Enter a sexual remark made in front of a large chorus and at least one Met Principal Artist, and a chorister who went to management and either had a lawyer or made it clear they would get one.  In either case, that management was looking at spending money.   James Levine has not been fired, and Copely is a diversion away from James Levine, and firing him makes it look like there's a new, decisive sheriff in town, at least going forward. 

Why might the chorister lawyer up?  In the NYT article about the union, for one, it said that the union represented both the director and the chorus.  I've never known of a union that represented independent contractors, so I'm really not sure if I'm wrong about this, or if I'm not, what Copely's status is.  But in either case, the union has wagged its finger at the Met, saying that they (the union) could have negotiated for an apology, and if the chorister felt that this meant the union was ready to throw them under the bus, no wonder they went straight to management and said they'd bring out the big guns.

A perfect storm that worked against Copely.

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

Hostile work environment has a legal meaning.  Someone could try to make a case that this creates a hostile environment, if they were willing to spend the money.  I don't know if there's any precedent for it. 

I don't think firing Copely was the only choice, but it is a very understandable one given the context in which it was made.  You have Met management and Board who have been called out on the table for knowing for at least a year that someone came forth with allegations of having been abused by James Levine, and which at best inherited an organization that used Met money to settle with the families of other boys who also said they were abused by Levine.  Enter a sexual remark made in front of a large chorus and at least one Met Principal Artist, and a chorister who went to management and either had a lawyer or made it clear they would get one.  In either case, that management was looking at spending money.   James Levine has not been fired, and Copely is a diversion away from James Levine, and firing him makes it look like there's a new, decisive sheriff in town, at least going forward. 

Why might the chorister lawyer up?  In the NYT article about the union, for one, it said that the union represented both the director and the chorus.  I've never known of a union that represented independent contractors, so I'm really not sure if I'm wrong about this, or if I'm not, what Copely's status is.  But in either case, the union has wagged its finger at the Met, saying that they (the union) could have negotiated for an apology, and if the chorister felt that this meant the union was ready to throw them under the bus, no wonder they went straight to management and said they'd bring out the big guns.

A perfect storm that worked against Copely.

Which would be a classic example of two wrongs not making a right. It was hardly Copley's fault that Gelb and company  didn't act on a police report.

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14 minutes ago, dirac said:

Which would be a classic example of two wrongs not making a right. It was hardly Copley's fault that Gelb and company  didn't act on a police report.

Or it could be good stewardship of the Met's money, or because the union wouldn't represent the chorister as they thought the union should.

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1 hour ago, nanushka said:

I don't understand how one can "get it wrong" if one is genuinely just reacting, not deciding to react in a certain way.

By get it wrong I mean for one thing to misunderstand the tenor of the remark. But more than that, one can not realize that it isn't necessarily necessary to feel insulted or demeaned and all the rest. One might, for example, just see Copely as a character who came up in a time when he could joke about sex without people taking offense. One might just be embarrassed for the guy. Or one might just ask for an apology and get one.  

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Similar arguments about a character who came up at a time when he could make a racist joke without people taking offense.

I'm not sure why the person who is not in power is expected to suck it up.

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5 hours ago, Helene said:

It's an appropriate word, however many syllables it has.  Intention has nothing to do with the legal definitions of hostile in hostile work environments.

If you make racist jokes, ethnic jokes, jokes about people with disabilities, etc. in the workplace, there can be consequences regardless of your intentions, and people who don't want to guarantee that they don't suffer those consequences don't make them.  I'm having difficulty understanding why it's so hard to grasp that making sexist or sexual jokes at work is inappropriate in the same way, and the people who do it can suffer similar consequences.  

I also am having increasing difficulty understanding why it's so hard to grasp that Copley's remark was inappropriate,  and why  people think it is acceptable to criticize the chorus member's reaction, why they think that it would have been more adult for the singer to laugh it off,  why they think Copley's age is relevant, etc.  

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1 hour ago, Marta said:

I also am having increasing difficulty understanding why it's so hard to grasp that Copley's remark was inappropriate,  and why  people think it is acceptable to criticize the chorus member's reaction, why they think that it would have been more adult for the singer to laugh it off,  why they think Copley's age is relevant, etc.  

While I can believe that Copley's age/experience made him tone deaf to this situation, that's an explanation -- not an excuse.

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Institutions are generally between a rock and a hard place when they try to shift course socially.  The Met acted swiftly and said  what would not longer be tolerated.  Whether it works and whether they keep that stand is still to be seen, particularly if sometime pushes the limit in protest, especially someone that is more important to them.

It was interesting to listen to Francis Lam's interview with Amy Thielen on The Splendid Table: they talk about how one of the appeals of working in a restaurant is a more casual work environment, but also of its dangers and the toxicity that can arise.  It was also interesting to hear the discussion of social proof and preference falsification in the most recent episode of Hidden Brain called "Why Now?"

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Avoiding a legal action by someone who felt Copely had wronged him on the job could very well been seen as responsible.

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Out of interest, do the terms camp, high camp, campery, exist in US parlance?  A lot of people this side of the pond are reading homophobia into this incident.  Whereas this totally trivial remark would be laughed off here, homophobia is considered a very serious matter in Britain and that would have been the sacking offence.

Edited by Mashinka
typo

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9 hours ago, kfw said:

By get it wrong I mean for one thing to misunderstand the tenor of the remark. But more than that, one can not realize that it isn't necessarily necessary to feel insulted or demeaned and all the rest. One might, for example, just see Copely as a character who came up in a time when he could joke about sex without people taking offense. One might just be embarrassed for the guy. Or one might just ask for an apology and get one.  

You wrote above, "But perhaps this guy really was traumatized (harmed) by Cop[le]y's remark. I feel for him then, but that doesn't mean he needed to be." Working under the hypothetical that he "really was traumatized," I don't see how any of these further considerations really come into play. That's not how trauma works, in my understanding. One doesn't stop and think whether it's necessarily necessary to be traumatized.

Let me suggest a further hypothetical. Imagine the chorus member is a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a powerful and esteemed older man. Copley's remark is triggering for him. He's in an environment where he feels safe, among his colleagues, at work, where he has a right to expect never to be sexually objectified or demeaned. Suddenly Copley picks him out and says, in front of some of those colleagues, essentially, "Right now, as I stand here looking at you, I am imagining having you naked in my bed. In my eyes, you are not a professional doing a job. You are an object for my sexual fantasies. You should like being an object for my sexual fantasies, because it means I find you attractive. It's a compliment. And I'm laughing as I say it because I am not really considering your inner self and your feelings. Because in addition to using you as a sexual object, I am also using you as a prop for my witty banter among these other colleagues who find me charming." Because that's basically what Copley's words might communicate, in the context I am imagining. And the result might be trauma — not in the merely colloquial sense ("Oh I'm so traumatized!"), but in the literal sense.

Now, that's just a hypothetical. Is it probable? No. Is it possible? Of course. If it were true, could Copley be expected to know about this man's past? Of course not. But that's precisely the point. I don't know about the man's past, Copley doesn't, none of us does. People's histories and sexualities can be very complicated and mysterious. There are all sorts of very personal reasons why this man may have reacted as he did, intentionally or unintentionally. We just don't know. And that's why I don't believe that judging or second-guessing his reactions—much less expecting him to be the responsible adult in the room and fix the mess that Copley made with his foolish remark—is wise.

Copley's remark was foolish but it was also, in my opinion, simply wrong. You just don't say to a colleague — especially one you don't know really, really well and have a very personal understanding with; especially in a situation where you are an outsider coming in for a brief time to work in a professional environment that is not your own — in those and many other circumstances, you just don't say to a colleague, in the workplace, in front of other people, that you are thinking of him naked in your bed. You just don't do it. In part, that's simply a human matter: you don't know this person, you don't know his past, you don't know his complicated experience of sexuality, you don't know his beliefs, you don't really know anything about him. But more to the point, it's a legal matter: because the workplace — where economic necessity dictates that most of us must be, and where structures of power already entwine us — is a place where we all have the right to be treated as professionals, not as sexual objects. (And yes, structures of power are all around us. They're not the only things that are there, but they are always there.) Copley violated that man's right.

Does that mean Copley deserved to be fired? As I've said, I don't think that's necessarily the case. But once Copley did that, firing became one very possible, if not reasonable, outcome. And if Copley didn't know that, that's on him, in my opinion.

Edited by nanushka

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In the end, without having been there we really don't know what exactly happened. If we had been in the room and heard tone and the exact words and mood of the room, maybe we would understand all this much more. Or maybe we would sympathize with Copley. I don't think we should rush to judgment about the chorister or Copley, unless we actually witnessed what exactly happened.

It probably is a case of the Met trying to now show it no longer tolerates any hint of sexual harassment after years of ignoring Levine's behavior......those rumors dogged Levine and were discussed among opera lovers ever since I started listening to opera and probably longer, so the Met as an organization has reason to make a big show of drawing a line in the sand and showing it now finally means business.

I also wonder if there was some personal conflict between Copley and administration that we don't know about. Samuel Ramey wrote that Gelb is as conservative as they come. Of course, that is an opinion. Maybe Gelb already disliked Copley, and he simply needed an excuse to get rid of him. I have no idea. Just throwing out how anything is possible. Sometimes the facts do not actually tell the whole story.

 

 

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Helene, racist jokes insult and denigrate. A complimentary joke, even one that’s sexual and makes the recipient uncomfortable, does neither, and this chorister didn’t have to either suck it up or do what he did. He had other ways to deal with it. The joke may be and probably was ill-considered and inappropriate, but it did not have to be handled the way it was, as even the union representing the chorister has said. People in the room, according to the Times, said “there appeared to have been a miscommunication.” A miscommunication is not like a racist joke.

sandik, I would say that not that the explanation is an excuse, period, but that it may be a mitigating factor. The older we get, the harder it is for us to change our ways, after all. If Copely was relaxed, caught up in his work and enjoying himself, that could explain why he said something he might not have if he’d stopped to consider it. But he misjudged, and then he was shown no mercy, no understanding.

nanushka, I agree that if the guy was traumatized he couldn’t just reconsider in real time, and perhaps as soon as the rehearsal ended, before he had time to think it through, he made his complaint. That doesn’t change the fact that there may be other ways to take the remark, other ways other people might have taken the remark (actually, see above, they did), other ways he could take such a remark from someone else if he hears it again.

As for your hypothetical, I had considered it. But Copely is not responsible for the chorister having been abused, if in fact he was. And as for all those other things Copely “essentially” said, what I’ve been saying is that were quite likely imagined and not essentially said at all. While we can ask Copely to be more sensitive, especially in 2018, insensitivity is not “hostile,” as the chorister charged it was.

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1 hour ago, kfw said:

And as for all those other things Copely “essentially” said, what I’ve been saying is that were quite likely imagined and not essentially said at all. 

Some of those things you've said yourself that he was essentially saying — e.g. "You should like being an object for my sexual fantasies, because it means I find you attractive." The others I outlined all seem pretty inherent in the remark, in my opinion, no matter what was "intended."

A "complimentary" joke can absolutely denigrate, if it is given in a professional environment, in which one expects to be treated like a professional and not a sexual object. I really don't understand how the fact that it may have been intended as complimentary is a mitigating factor.

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But Copely is not responsible for the chorister having been abused, if in fact he was. 

Of course he's not, and I specifically said that he couldn't possibly know the man's past. That's crucial to several of the points I was making.

Edited by nanushka

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Some of those things you've said yourself that he was essentially saying — e.g. "You should like being an object for my sexual fantasies, because it means I find you attractive." The others I outlined all seem pretty inherent in the remark, in my opinion, no matter what was "intended."

A "complimentary" joke can absolutely denigrate, if it is given in a professional environment, in which one expects to be treated like a professional and not a sexual object. I really don't understand how the fact that it may have been intended as complimentary is a mitigating factor.

I don't know what your second sentence means - this discussion has gotten so involved - but the first isn’t what I was trying to say. Liking and not taking as demeaning are two different things. The chorister didn’t have to like it to not feel demeaned. He might, for example, have felt embarrassed for Copley given he’d made himself look bad.

Respecting someone for his work and expressing admiration for his looks are not mutually exclusive. Copely made one joke, not a running series of them. One joke doesn’t set the tone for a whole relationship, and the chorister didn’t accuse him of anything else.

Intention should be a mitigating factor here just like it should be in any other human relationship. Do we really want a society where people just assert their legal rights and don't try to understand the person their asserting them against? Does that chorister prefer to be offended and (possibly) feel demeaned? If not, a simple conversation, or if not that then a written apology, could have done the trick. 

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I specifically said that he couldn't possibly know the man's past. 

Yes you did, and I'm sorry not to have noted it. You say it's crucial to several of the points you were making; we just disagree about your logic. If the guy was traumatized, that might explain his reaction, but it would still be an overreaction because it would be rooted in what happened to him earlier, not in what Copely did, which only triggered memories of the trauma. Copley, of course, did not sexually abuse the guy. So Copley should not in effect be held responsible  for what (might) have happened to the guy.

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2 hours ago, kfw said:

sandik, I would say that not that the explanation is an excuse, period, but that it may be a mitigating factor. The older we get, the harder it is for us to change our ways, after all. If Copely was relaxed, caught up in his work and enjoying himself, that could explain why he said something he might not have if he’d stopped to consider it. But he misjudged, and then he was shown no mercy, no understanding.

An explanation helps us understand why someone did something, but it doesn't mean that the thing itself is acceptable, even if we can see how it happened.  We can use the understanding to help change behaviors, to realize where bad choices get made and reinforced and shift them.  But that still doesn't mean that we should excuse these actions. 

Yes, it is more difficult to change behaviors as we age -- we've practiced the bad choice for a long time, and as one of my teachers used to say, you will perform what you practice.  But to give someone a pass because of their age is not acceptable.  If older people cannot be held responsible for their bad actions, how else will we buffer or infantilize them?

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Copley, of course, did not sexually abuse the guy. So Copley should not in effect be held responsible  for what (might) have happened to the guy.

He's not responsible for what might have happened to the man, but he is responsible for what he himself did — and what he did is something that, in my opinion, he could reasonably be expected to know might be experienced as demeaning by a colleague in a professional environment. That "might" is strong enough to make it inadvisable, inappropriate, and deserving of censure. Given that Copley was only working at the Met on a very short-term basis, unfortunately for him that censure came in the form of firing.

"I'm thinking of you in my bed with your clothes off." That's what Copley reportedly said. (He also, reportedly, did not deny saying it.) I fail to see how that statement is a "joke."

Here's what the Times also reports:

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A number of British critics — and friends and admirers of Mr. Copley’s, including singers who have worked with him — rushed to his defense, suggesting that any remark he had made must have been meant as a joke, or misunderstood.

Note that those are people who were not present at the time of the incident, and who are simply described as saying he "must have...meant" it in a way that supposedly diminishes the significance of the offense.

It was not, as was said above, "people in the room" who said "there appeared to have been a miscommunication." It was officials at the union who said that, and there is no indication that they were in the room. I don't know what the basis was for their characterization of the incident.

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I've never said I excuse the actions. I've said the remark was probably inappropriate but that a conversation and an apology could probably have restored harmony - if the chorister was willing for it to be restored. To ask for an apology is not to give someone a pass. It is by definition to confront him.

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