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Workplace practices lead to religious discrimination concerns

Florida readers may be aware of a recently filed lawsuit against a medical services company due to unusual religious practices. The suit, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is in response to alleged practices at the company that forced at least four employees to perform religious observations practiced by Scientologists. The story has raised a number of concerns about violations of workplace regulations designed to both prevent religious discrimination and to protect workers from religious coercion.

In this unusual case, the workers claim that they were not discriminated against due to their own beliefs, but that they were forced to participate in practices used by the Church of Scientology. These practices included staring at an individual for eight hours, or yelling at inanimate objects such as ashtrays. In addition, one worker claims to have been coerced into undergoing a 'purification' ritual.

When two of the workers refused to participate in certain practices, they claim that they were fired as a result. Two other workers within the suit were not terminated. The lawsuit is asking for punitive and compensatory damages, as well as an injunction prohibiting the company from requiring workers to participate in religious practices while in the workplace or as a condition of employment.

This case is an unusual spin of matters of religious discrimination, in that the workers here were coerced into religious practices, not punished for participating in the tenants of their own religious beliefs. However, at the heart of the matter is the same basic concept. Workers should not be punished in any manner for religious-based activities, regardless of whether they are abiding by the beliefs of their own religion or resisting participation in another. It is hoped that the outcome of this case sends a loud message to all Florida employers that such acts of coercion will not be tolerated.

Source: gantdaily.com, "EEOC sues Florida firm for firing workers who refused Scientology," May 14, 2013

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