Former Soka University Professor Loses Appeal in Religious Discrimination Case

OC Weekly, California/April 18, 2011

An ex-professor at Soka University of America (SUA) who sued the school for religious discrimination has lost her appeal against a decision made in favor of the Aliso Viejo university.

Gaye Christoffersen was the subject of an OC Weekly cover story on former SUA faculty members and students who claim they were deceived by the university's nonsectarian status. The ex-professor of political science alleged she was denied tenure because she refused to abandon her Lutheran faith to join Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist sect that founded the 10-year-old university. Christoffersen, who was 62 years old at the time of her tenure denial, also sued the school for age discrimination, claiming that younger professors with fewer achievements were granted tenure.

On Friday, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana rejected Christoffersen's appeal that the Superior Court of Orange County erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant.

University officials involved in the tenure process declared in documents that they did not know the religion or age of any of the candidates who were being considered for tenure.

SUA has previously been attacked by former faculty who say they were discriminated based on their non-Buddhist beliefs.

In 2002, Linda Southwell, a terminated fine-arts professor, sued the school for $25 million, alleging religious discrimination, wrongful termination and fraud, among other charges. She came to a settlement, which included a confidentiality clause. In 2005, Holly Ogren, a professor of Japanese language and culture, also sued Soka in Orange County Superior Court for religious discrimination, alleging she was "severely mistreated, degraded and berated" and "ultimately terminated for being a Hare Krishna." The case was dismissed in 2006.

Edward Feasel, the school's dean of faculty, has said, "We give absolutely no preferential treatment based on religion."

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