Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Religious Discrimination in Employment Case Settlement: Employer Compels Employee To Engage in Scientology Practices as a Condition of Employment

Share this post

Principles

Workplace law is clear: An employer may not unlawfully discriminate against an employee by compelling her to participate in a religious practice selected by the employer as a condition of employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[1] prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on religion. Many states provide similar protections against religious discrimination in employment.

A Title VII claim exists to challenge an employer who subjects an employee to discrimination by imposing religious practices and beliefs on the employee. Title VII protects employees from discrimination because they do not share their employer’s religious beliefs.[2]

Title VII protects those who refuse to hold, as well as those who hold, specific religious beliefs.”[3]

A religious discrimination claim premised on an employer’s preference for a religious group is often referred to as a “reverse religious discrimination.”[4] In this claim, it is the religious beliefs of the employer, or the religious beliefs/practices  that the employer compels the employee to engage in and which the employee does not share, that constitutes the basis of the claim.[5]

In the context of religious discrimination because of an employer’s coercion, my also implicate Title VII claims for: (1) retaliation against an employee who objects to the employer’s required religious practices, and/or (2) a hostile work environment created by the employer based on religious.

Scientology in the Workplace

In January 2020, a Wyoming-based employer settled an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court alleging forced Scientology practices and teachings on an employee and a subsequent discharge from employment when she objected.

In Julie L. Rohrbacher v. Teton Therapy, P.C.[6],  Ms. Rohrbacher worked as a receptionist in Teton Therapy’s office in Lander, Wyoming.  Teton Therapy is Wyoming-based physical and occupational therapy practice.

Specifically, the pleadings asserted that Teton Therapy:

  • Despite Ms. Rohrbach’s objections, repeatedly required and pressured her to take and complete “Breaking the Code: The Mysteries of Modern Management Unlocked”, a course adapted from the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
  • Denied Ms. Rohrbacher a pay raise until she completed the Code Course.
  • Directed Ms. Rohrbacher to participate in two communication training exercises.
  • Required Ms. Rohrbacher, in one exercise, to sit a few feet apart from her manager, and stare into her manager’s face without looking away.
  • In the second exercise, required Ms. Rohrbacher to participate in “bull-baiting,” which required the participants to yell derogatory remarks at each other.
  • Offered Ms. Rohrbacher a promotion to a management position and then denied her the promotion after she objected to Teton Therapy’s directive to attend a week-long training course in Clearwater, Florida, which she reasonably believed was Scientology based training.
  • Terminated her employment.

On December 5-6, 2019, the court denied Teton Therapy’s motion for summary judgment on Ms. Rohrbacher’s claim for religious discrimination and granted the motion on the hostile work environment claim. The amount of any settlement payment is confidential under the settlement agreement. On January 2, 2020, the lawsuit was dismissed by the court, pursuant to the parties’ joint motion.

Related Scientology in Employment Lawsuit Information

The employer in EEOC v. Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. [7] a federal enforcement action,  is similar in type and conduct to the employer in Rohrbacher. Dynamic provided medical and chiropractic services.

The EEOC’s allegations included the employer requiring one or more employees to  attend courses that involved Scientology religious practices and participate in Scientology practices, such as screaming at  ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving.

The EEOC alleged Dynamic discharged from employment after they refused to participate in Scientology religious practices and/or did not conform to Scientology religious beliefs.

The Dynamic Medical case was settled for $170,000.00.[8]

Moreover, the issue of employer directives to employees, concerning Scientology practices, is addressed in the federal lawsuit, Grecia Echevarria-Hernandez, v. Affinitylifestyles.com, Inc., et. seq.[9]

Furthermore, in 2012, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered a dentist in to pay nearly $348,000 to settle allegations that he threatened to fire a dental assistant unless she attended a Scientology-related training session.[10]

Discussion  

Further discussion of the Rohrbacher v, Teton Therapy case is set forth in https://tonyortega.org/2020/01/08/wyoming-employer-settles-to-prevent-trial-on-forcing-worker-into-scientology/.

[1] 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1).

[2] Mandell v. Cty. of Suffolk, 316 F.3d 368, 378 (2d Cir. 2003).

[3] Shapolia v. Los Alamos Nat. Lab., 992 F.2d 1033, 1036 (10th Cir. 1993).

[4] EEOC v. United Health Programs of Am., 213 F. Supp. 3d 377, 392 (E.D.N.Y. 2016).

[5] Shapolia, supra, 992 F.2d 1033, 1038.

[6] U.S. District Court – District of Wyoming [Case No. 1:18-cv-00214-SWS]

[7] U.S. District Court – Southern District of Florida [Case No. 1:13-cv-21666)].

[8]  https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/12-23-13a.cfm

[9]  U.S. District Court – District of Nevada [Case No. 2:16-cv-00943]

[10] https://www.oregonlive.com/money/2012/10/bend_dentist_fined_nearly_3480.html

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Steven Murray has practiced employment law for over 30 years. He holds a Master of Laws degree in Labor and Employment Law from Georgetown University Law School He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Colorado. He previously served as a Senior Trial Attorney for the EEOC in the Birmingham District and Denver Field offices.

Share this post

Don’t Forget About Religious Discrimination When Throwing Your Office Halloween Party

Share this post

Donna photo redPersonally, I love Halloween. Adore it. I have zombies in my courtyard to scare the kiddies, and a graveyard in front of the house with various and sundry body parts poking out. Yes, Halloween is great fun for those who celebrate it. However, there are some religions that ban celebrating Halloween altogether, and some people who have sincerely held beliefs against it.

Halloween is now a pretty secular holiday, but its origins are in the Catholic religion. The Catholic holiday, All Hallow’s Eve, is the night before All Saint’s Day. I’m not an expert, but I believe the idea was that souls were liberated from Purgatory on that day, so celebrants would pray for the souls of the dead and hold a vigil during the night. The tradition of going door to door came from the UK, when beggars would ask for a “soul cake” in exchange for offering a prayer for the soul of the dead of the household. Earlier Pagans also had a fall holiday featuring bonfires and feasts, called Samhain, that probably influenced the Catholic celebrations, particularly in the UK.

Here are just some of the religions that don’t celebrate Halloween:

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: They don’t celebrate any holidays or even birthdays.
  • Some Christians: Some believe the holiday is associated with Satanism or Paganism, so are against celebrating it.
  • Orthodox Jews: They don’t celebrate Halloween due to its origins as a Christian holiday. Other Jews may or may not celebrate.
  • Muslims: Many Muslims don’t celebrate Halloween, again due to its origins in other religions.

I’m sure there are others. In researching this article, I came upon this telling comment about people who can’t/won’t celebrate Halloween: “I hate debbie downers who don’t celebrate holidays, seriously they don’t have to stand for anything, they’re just fun.” When you’re dealing with Halloween at work, many celebrants treat those who have religious objections as “debbie downers,” party poopers who just don’t want to have fun. Even worse, I’ve seen situations where employees were ordered to decorate desks and come in costumes because the workplace had contests for best decorated departments. When they refused, they were criticized and threatened as not being “team players.”

So, I wanted to issue this reminder to all workplaces celebrating Halloween: don’t force anyone to celebrate, decorate, or dress for Halloween. Don’t harass them if they don’t want to participate. If someone has a sincerely-held belief, then it’s likely protected by Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you agree with them, think they’re mistaken, or even think their beliefs are stupid. What matters is respect for the beliefs of the person holding them.

HR folks might want to give themselves a refresher on religious discrimination and harassment before the company’s Halloween celebration, so they can be ready when things go awry.

This article was originally printed on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on October 25, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Donna Ballman‘s new book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards, was recently named the Winner of the Law Category of the 2012 USA Best Books Awards and is currently available for purchase. She is the award-winning author of The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, a book geared toward informing novelists and screenwriters about the ins and outs of the civil justice system. She’s been practicing employment law, including negotiating severance agreements and litigating discrimination, sexual harassment, noncompete agreements, and employment law issues in Florida since 1986. Her blog on employee-side employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, was named one of the 2011 and 2012 ABA Blawg 100 best legal blogs and the 2011 Lexis/Nexis Top 25 Labor and Employment Law Blogs.

She has written for AOL Jobs and The Huffington Post on employment law issues, and has been an invited guest blogger for Monster.com and Ask A Manager. She has over 6000 followers on Twitter as @EmployeeAtty. She has taught continuing legal education classes for lawyers and accountants through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association, Sterling Education Services, Lorman Education Services, Alison Seminars, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and community organizations.  Ms. Ballman has published articles on employment law topics such as severance, non-compete agreements, discrimination, sexual harassment, and avoiding litigation. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Lifetime Television Network, the Daily Business Review, and many other media outlets on employment law issues. She was featured on the Forbes Channel’s “America’s Most Influential Women” program on the topic of severance negotiations and non-compete agreements.

 


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.