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Lawsuit alleges Wyoming employer required worker to study Scientology

Lawsuit alleges Wyoming employer required worker to study Scientology

Scales of Justice

An occupational therapist made his employee take Scientology courses as a condition of her employment, she alleges in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed this week.

Julie A. Rohrbacher filed suit Monday against Teton Therapy, a set of physical and occupational therapy offices that operate in four Wyoming locations, including Lander, where she worked. In court filings, Rohrbacher claims Jeff McMenamy, the company’s owner, declined to promote her and then forced her to resign in 2013 from her job after she refused to enroll in courses put on by the Church of Scientology.

McMenamy said late Wednesday morning that neither he nor his attorney had yet seen filings in the case and could therefore not comment on the lawsuit.

Katherine Strike, a Lander lawyer, is representing Rohrbacher in the case. Strike did not return a Tuesday morning message requesting comment.

The United States’ Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which Rohrbacher’s claims were filed, prohibits religious harassment at work. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Scientology as a religion.

The lawsuit states that Rohrbacher’s employer required her to take a course modeled on the church’s teachings as a term of her employment. She did not complete the course because she objects to the church’s teachings, the lawsuit states.

When, two years after joining the company, Rohrbacher applied for a promotion, she was told she would need to complete the course and take another in Clearwater, Florida, in order to be eligible for the promotion, the lawsuit states. She did not receive the promotion.

Shortly thereafter, Rohrbacher said she was made uncomfortable by the teachings. Her employers then told her she should quit and take two weeks’ severance pay or she would be fired, the lawsuit states.

Scientology is a church founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the mid-20th century. The IRS recognizes the church as a nonprofit institution that does not have to pay taxes under a religious exemption, though its legal status has been called into question in various countries.

In 2009, a Paris court convicted the French branch of the church of fraud and fined it nearly $1 million.

The church is the subject of Going Clear, a 2013 book by New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright that states the church had some of its adherents sign billion-year contracts and subjected them to forced labor. The book was later adapted into a documentary of the same name.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified McMenamy as a physical therapist . He is an occupational therapist.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson


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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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