BEND, Ore. — State labor officials have ordered a dentist to pay nearly $348,000 to settle allegations that he threatened to fire a dental assistant unless she attended a Scientology-related training session.
The Bureau of Labor and Industries contends Dr. Andrew W. Engel repeatedly “badgered” Susan Muhleman about the three-day conference despite her concerns that it would conflict with her Christian beliefs. He also turned down her request to attend secular training instead, investigators said.
As a result, Muhleman quit AWE Dental Spa in August 2009 — weeks before the conference — and moved out of state to find a job, the state agency said.
Muhleman said she was opposed to going to the Scientology conference but worried about losing her job at the height of the recession, when the local jobless rate was about 15 percent.
She was the only person in her family employed full time, she said.
“It weighed very heavy on me to have to make a decision like that for the future of my family,” she said.
Muhleman filed a complaint with BOLI’s civil rights division in November 2009, launching the investigation. Religious discrimination cases are relatively rare, comprising just 3 percent of the agency’s annual workload.
Engel was not available for comment. He gained his dental license in Oregon in 1998. State Board of Dentistry records show the body has never taken disciplinary action against Engel.
Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said the penalty will cover the woman’s lost wages and damages as well as moving expenses and emotional distress.
Employees should feel “secure from an employer’s pressure to do something that conflicts with their religious beliefs,” he said in a written statement.
(Molly Young writes for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.)
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