Federal trial opens in Kelly Services case

Role of Fellowship of Friends at issue

Appeal-Democrat, Yuba City California/March 26, 2008

A software developer faced "reverse religious discrimination" at work because she wasn't a member of the Fellowship of Friends, her attorney told jurors Tuesday, a claim disputed by employer Kelly Services.

The start of the federal trial in Sacramento in the lawsuit filed by former Kelly Services employee Lynn Noyes, 59, provided sharply contrasting pictures of the Nevada City office where Noyes worked.

Noyes contends she was denied promotion to a management position because office manager William Heinz belonged to the Yuba County-based Fellowship and favored other members.

"She looked around the office and counted," Noyes' attorney M. Catherine Jones said after the Nevada City resident was denied a promotion in 2001.

Thirteen of the 35 full-time employees were Fellowship members and on the floor where Noyes worked nine of the 13 employees belonged to the Fellowship, Jones said in her opening statement.

The Fellowship, whose Web site states that the group "was founded in 1970 in the Fourth Way tradition, also known as 'esoteric Christianity,' " is not named in Noyes' employment discrimination lawsuit filed against Michigan-based Kelly Services.

Noyes commuted for seven years from Nevada City to Sacramento as a part-time student to get a Masters of Business Administration degree so she could work in management, Jones said. But Heinz, "a 25-year-member of the Fellowship," selected another Fellowship member who received a $10,000 raise after six months, Jones said.

The attorney cited an anonymous letter sent to Kelly Services about the influence of Fellowship members at the office. "We are outnumbered here," the letter stated.

E. Joseph Connaughton, the attorney representing Kelly, said in his opening statement that "This case will tell a story about a man who tried to do the right thing."

Office manager Heinz had sought advice from others when a management position opened, Connaughton said. The post was first offered to a non-Fellowship member, who turned it down, Connaughton said.

"You're not going to see intentional religious discrimination," the attorney said.

He said of the Fellowship that, "I have no idea what they are. I don't entirely get it."

Members seems to be a bunch of smart and very well-educated people, Connaughton said.

Kelly Services twice sent representatives from Michigan to investigate assertions that the Fellowship influenced operations at the Nevada City office, the attorney said.

Noyes had sought $1.2 million from Kelly Services to settle the case, according to a court document.

She and other employees in Nevada City were laid off in 2004 and Kelly Services closed the office the next year.

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