EEOC: Employees illegally fired

Valley Morning Star/September 13, 2002
By Allen Essex

Harlingen -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit on behalf of former employees of Harlingen Family Dentistry who refused to attend training courses reportedly containing scientology doctrine.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Brownsville, alleges religious discrimination and retaliation against the workers.

According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, scientology is "a religious movement begun in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard which teaches immortality and reincarnation and claims a sure psychotherapeutic method for freeing the individual from personal problems, increasing human abilities & and speeding recovery from sickness, injury, and mental disorder."

The EEOC's lawsuit claims that since October 1999, Rosemary DeLeon, Griselda Garcia, Maria Carrizales and other dental clinic employees were mistreated in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The dental clinic is accused in the lawsuit of forcing workers to attend training lectures that include Hubbard's teachings.

"Employees who objected to or refused to attend these courses because of their religious content were subjected to various adverse employment actions and were ultimately fired," the EEOC said in a news release.

"The EEOC also alleges that HFD retaliated against an employee simply for making a religious discrimination complaint with the EEOC," the EEOC said.

The lawsuit asks for compensation for past and future lost wages, punitive damages, costs of retraining and job searches, as well as reimbursement of the EEOC's legal costs.

Nemecio Lopez, an attorney representing Harlingen Family Dentistry, said the accusations are false and called the EEOC action lawsuit abuse.

Disgruntled employees filed the lawsuit out of greed, Lopez said.

Dentist Juan Villarreal heads the clinic and local residents will see the case is groundless when all the facts come out, Lopez said.

"Harlingen Family Dentistry is an excellent organization," Lopez said. "It employs over 80 employees. It has been in existence for more than 19 years. It has state-of-the-art dental care."

The clinic supports its neighbors, Lopez said. "It has a big impact in our community," he said. "Because of its great success, it's been a very charitable institution. Yearly, it gives scholarships and donations to different organizations."

Lopez said that there is no scientology doctrine or material in courses for employees.

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