Santa Clara -- A group hired to teach communication and time-management skills to employees of Applied Materials were apparently recruiters for the Church of Scientology, three former employees claim in a lawsuit.
Trial proceedings began Tuesday as lawyers for both sides argued motions before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Frank Cliff.
In their suit, former employees Steven Hunziker, Virginia Sanders and Kate Schuchmann allege that Applied Materials hired an outside firm to teach workers communication and time-management skills.
But the seminar firm, Applied Scholastics of Fremont, was really a recruitment arm of the Church of Scientology, a religious group that has been accused of financially exploiting followers and ruthlessly attacking critics, according to the suit. When they refused to take the courses, the employees claim, they were driven out of the company. They also allege that the seminars violated their religious freedom.
The central issue in the case is whether the firm retaliated against the employees after they refused to take part in the workshops.
Applied Materials has flatly denied the charges, saying it was not aware that the seminars had any link to Scientology.
The classes were dropped in October 1988 after workers complained.
Lawyers for Applied Materials have asked that any reference to Scientology be excluded from the trial.
"Allowing such evidence would place (the company) in the untenable position of... appearing to defend the Church of Scientology, which it has absolutely no interest in doing," lawyer Cynthia L. Remmers said in court papers.
But attorneys for the former employees said Scientology is at the heart of the lawsuit.
"These (people) were forcibly exposed to Church of Scientology courses by Applied Materials, and when they complained about it, they got harassed and criticized and threatened until conditions became so intolerable that they were forced to resign," said John C. Elstead, co-counsel for clients Sanders and Schuchmann.