Judge dimisses wage claims in Scientology lawsuit

Associated Press/April 5, 2010

Los Angeles - A federal judge has dismissed part of a lawsuit brought against the Church of Scientology by a woman who alleged she worked 100-hour weeks for almost no pay for years while a member of Scientology's elite inner corps.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer issued a written order late Friday that dismissed the wage claims portion of Claire Headley's lawsuit. The judge did not address two other causes of action: allegations that the church coerces members of the inner corps to get abortions and engages in forced labor.

The church denies all the allegations and has called the plaintiffs liars motivated by greed.

Headley sued the church in federal court in Los Angeles last year seeking restitution for nearly 14 years of work done while a member of Scientology's inner corps, called the Sea Organization. The church argued in court papers that as a Sea Organization member, Headley was exempt from wage requirements because she was part of a religious order.

So-called Sea Org members work long hours, live and eat communally and sign a pledge that symbolizes a 1 billion-year commitment to Scientology.

Fischer sided with Scientology in her five-page ruling, saying the evidence showed that Headley was chosen for her work based on religious criteria and performed religious duties.

The ruling "reaffirms the fact that we're a religion and the people who dedicate their lives to us are religious workers," said Tommy Davis, church spokesman. "It's an absolute win for the church."

Marc Marmaro, an attorney representing the church's Religious Technology Center, declined to comment.

A separate lawsuit filed by Headley's husband alleging labor code violations and forced labor remains intact, said Barry Van Sickle, attorney for both Headleys.

Claire Headley joined the Sea Org in 1991 at age 16 and worked at several locations, including on a gated 500-acre campus near San Jacinto, Calif.; Hollywood; and Clearwater, Fla. She left the Sea Org in 2005.

Scientology was founded more than 50 years ago by L. Ron Hubbard. Membership numbers are unclear. Spokesman Tommy Davis has said Scientology has millions of members worldwide. But the American Religion Identification Survey found the number of Americans who identify as Scientologists dropped from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

Practitioners believe they can eliminate negative energy from past lives through study and "auditing" sessions that use electronic devices called "e-meters" to detect mental trauma. Adherents hope to become "Operating Thetans," or pure spirits.

The Sea Org traces its roots to 1967, when Hubbard took his most dedicated followers on sea voyages to explore early civilizations and spread his teachings. The group is now land-based and has a membership of about 5,000.

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