A handful of employees — now ex-employees — of a South Florida chiropractic office say they got more than a paycheck for their labors.
The workers say they were force-fed an indoctrination in the rituals of Scientology, the controversial religion that counts such celebrities as Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its members. Those rituals, the workers complained, included occasionally having to sit perfectly still in a spare room at the office, facing one another for an eight-hour staredown — as well as yelling at ashtrays and talking to the walls.
They also had to devour the books of the late L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, including his seminal work, Dianetics, the complaint alleged.
The result of their complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: one of the more unusual employment-discrimination squabbles to come along in South Florida — resolved when the business signed a consent decree agreeing to pay $170,000 and to quit trying to dictate its employees’ religious beliefs.
Never miss a local story.
Dynamic Medical Services, with offices in South Miami and Hialeah, says it never did any such thing, but says it is settling to avoid the hassle.
“We deny all of the allegations brought against Dynamic Medical in the EEOC case. However, given the expense to litigate these types of things, we made a business decision to try and resolve it,” Dynamic said in a statement.
Four former employees of Dynamic — Norma Rodriguez, Maykel Ruz, Rommy Sanchez and Yanileydis Capote — alleged that their employer forced them to participate in activities that involved Scientology, and to study the religion on a daily basis or face consequences.
Beatriz Andre, an attorney with the EEOC, said Dynamic had the First Amendment right to express religious ideas, but not to mandate them for others.
Andre said it is far more common for complaints to involve employees looking to engage in religious activity in the workplace and their employers attempting to curb that.
Sanchez and Rodriguez said their decisions to go against the mandate cost them their jobs.
Sanchez said she was fired in 2010 after enduring years of courses in Scientology from books written by Hubbard, and after participating in various exercises.
The complaint said that Sanchez was required to attend church and read Hubbard’s The Way to Happiness and Dianetics: Original Thesis over the course of several months. She also allegedly went through an Electropsychometer treatment, described on the Scientology website as a “religious artifact” that “measures the spiritual state or change of state of a person.”
Dennis Nobbe, Dynamic’s owner, told Sanchez that he wanted her to be “purified.” When Sanchez expressed concerns, she was told, “Remember you work for Dynamic and Nobbe is paying for this,” according to the complaint.
She went along with the “purification” process, which required her to sit in a sauna for five hours and take 20 “vitamin” pills on a daily basis, the complaint said. Even after a fainting spell, she was required to return to the sauna.
Sanchez said she was fired months later, after she stopped attending the church.
Rodriguez also claimed that she was discharged in 2010 after she refused to go to a church of Scientology. She explained to her supervisor that she was a Jehovah’s Witness.
The EEOC said Rodriguez was made to do exercises like walking up to someone in a shopping mall, stopping them and staring at them without speaking. She also attended courses at a church of Scientology on a weekly basis.
The two other plaintiffs, Ruz and Capote, eventually resigned from the company.
Andre said that initially dozens of other employees were interviewed, but they declined to join the complaint. She added that some of the employees, both management and rank-and-file, were practicing Scientologists and felt that the exercises were business as usual.
If a court approves the consent decree, Dynamic will be subject to further action from the court if employees allege more discrimination. The decree would also establish a policy against discrimination and require all workers to receive anti-discrimination training.
“Any time an employee asks for reasonable accommodation for religious purposes, Dynamic has to report it to the EEOC,” Andre said.
Dynamic is listed as a member of the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises. WISE, in its president’s message is described as “a fellowship of thousands of business people across the globe who recognize that the organizational and management principles developed by author L. Ron Hubbard have application to all businesses.”