'New Age' Training Suit Against Market Settled Out of Court

Wall Street Journal/May 31, 1989

Atlanta -- A local farmers' market settled an employment discrimination suit that was the first to challenge how far an employer can go in encouraging participation in a New Age training program. Although terms of the out-of-court settlement weren't disclosed, Amy Totenberg, attorney for the employees, said the case ''has made employers come to grips with the legitimate boundaries of employee training.''

The suit, filed in federal court last December by eight former employees of the DeKalb Farmers Market, alleged the market violated their civil rights and religious freedom by coercing them to participate in the Forum, a human potential training session developed by Werner Erhard.

As New Age training programs have gained popularity in the workplace, some employees have resisted attending. Last year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which reviews work discrimination complaints, issued a policy guide notice saying that if an employee objects to such programs on religious grounds, employers must give ''reasonable accommodation'' unless it creates ''undue hardship.''

The suit sought to enjoin the market and its owner, Robert Blazer, from forcing workers to participate in the programs. It also sought back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the ex-workers who complained they were humiliated and harassed, and suffered psychological trauma.

Mr. Blazer said the market never coerced anyone to attend Forum training sessions. The Forum, which wasn't named as a defendant in the suit, has said it wouldn't condone forcing people to participate in its programs. It also said that its programs are not religious in nature.

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