Dental hygienist wins $348,000 from boss who forced her to quit after demanding she take Scientology classes

Daily Mail, UK/October 5, 2012

A dental hygienist has won $348,000 in compensation from her boss after he demanded she attend a Scientology seminar so persistently that she was forced to quit and flee the state.

Susan Muhleman won the sum at a court in Oregon for emotional duress and the cost of finding new employment.

It's the largest judgement imposed by the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries in recent history, an agency representative told The Oregonian.

Muhleman was working as a dental assistant at the Bend, Ore., practice of Dr. Andrew W. Engel when her boss ordered her to attend a three-day Scientology training session for life skills with co-workers.

When the devout Christian told him she wouldn't attend because of her faith, Engel threatened to fire her.

Muhleman tried to bargain with him, asking if she could attend a non-religious training seminar. But Engel persisted for days, dismissing her concerns Scientology conflicted with her religious beliefs.

Unable to take any more and with only weeks to the conference, Muhleman quit in August 2009 then fled the state to find work.

Muhleman told reporters she was terrified to leave a job with Bend's unemployment rate stuck at a whopping 15.2 per cent, but Engel left her no choice.

"It weighed very heavy on me to have to make a decision like that for the future of my family," she said.

In November 2009 she filed a complain with the bureau's civil rights division.

The bureau investigation determined Muhleman had been the victim of harassment that cost her wages, expenses to leave the state, emotional distress, and separated her from her teenage daughter while she sought employment.

Bureau commissioner Brad Avakian said workers deserved to know they were safe from being forced to compromise their religious beliefs.

'When an employee asks for an accommodation of their religious beliefs, there needs to be a real discussion about accommodation,' Avakian said. 'Not a ‘my way or the highway’ dismissal by the employer.'

The State of Oregon Board of Dentistry has never disciplined Engel since he got earned his state dental license in 1998.

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