Employer May Not Coerce Employee into attending a Scientology Seminar

The Commissioner of the Oregon Labor and Industries Commissioner recently ordered a Central Oregon dentist to pay $347,654 to a former employee for religious discrimination.  The employee was forced to flee from her job when the dentist ordered her to attend a three-day scientology affiliated symposium or be fired.  The employer badgered the employee for days leading up to the symposium to convince the employee to attend with her co-workers, refused to consider the employee’s objections based on her Christian faith, and rejected the employee’s offer to attend an alternative non-religious training based activity.  The employee recovered lost wages, health benefits, damages for emotional distress and the moving expenses she incurred to move out of state (to Texas) to find work.

 As BOLI explained: “When an employee asks for an accommodation of their religious beliefs, there needs to be a real discussion about accommodation—not a ‘my way or the highway’ dismissal by the employer.”

 As the holiday season approaches, BOLI’s decision is a reminder to employers to be careful to avoid religious discrimination and mindful of their obligations to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees.

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