Six to split $150,000 in Arlington veterinary clinic bias case agreement

Star-Telegram, December 3, 1999
By Robert Tharp

ARLINGTON -- An Arlington veterinary clinic has agreed to end a federal job discrimination lawsuit by splitting a $150,000 settlement among six former employees who said that their advancement was linked to participation in Church of Scientology training sessions.

The agreement is part of a settlement stemming from a March 1997 discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a worker at the I-20 Animal Medical Center.

Five other former employees joined the lawsuit, which was filed in October 1998. Efforts to mediate the dispute failed in October, and the case was scheduled to go to trial Monday until the agreement was reached. Federal District Judge Joe Kendall approved the settlement Thursday.

The former employees of the clinic in the 5800 block of West Interstate 20 said that they were pressured to participate in employee training programs developed by the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises. Promotions, raises and bonuses were tied to participation in the activities, and employees who did not take part suffered retaliation, the employees charged in their complaint.

The lawsuit was filed against the veterinary clinic and not the church organization. It sought back pay for the former employees and punitive damages for discrimination.

Spencer Robinson, a Pine Bluff, Ark., lawyer who represented the clinic, said the settlement was reached because a lengthy trial could have been more costly than the settlement. Clinic administrators could not be reached for comment.

"Our position is very simple," Robinson said. "I-20 settled this because it made economic sense."

The settlement is not an admission of guilt, and Robinson denied that any employees suffered discrimination. Robinson said there's no record that the former employees complained about the practices internally before they filed the lawsuit.

"We never admitted that we did anything, so it's not a big deal to say that we're not going to" discriminate in the future, Robinson said.

In addition to the monetary settlement, the clinic agreed not to engage in religious teachings or training at the facility and to conduct training sessions that will inform employees of the settlement, explain their rights and how to complain, said Devika Dubey, a senior trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"We wanted to compensate the individuals for what they had gone through, and the EEOC wants to make sure that what these employees were subjected to does not happen to other employees in the future," Dubey said.

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. According to the Penguin Dictionary of Religions, Scientology is based on the idea that people have a soul or spirit -- called a "Thetan" -- that is immortal and goes from life to life. Scientologists' principal sacrament is "auditing," in which the "Thetan" is cleared of past painful experiences.

"It's not about Scientology," said Robert Canino, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "This was about the imposition of a particular belief for people who did not want to be subjected to it."

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