A dentist in Bend, Oregon, is in hot water after the state labor department ruled that he must pay nearly $348,000 to a former employee in a religious discrimination complaint that was waged against him. According to media accounts, Dr. Andrew W. Engel ordered an employee to attend a three-day, Scientology-affiliated conference — something the hygienist was adamantly and vocally opposed to.
Susan Muhleman, the former employee at AWE Dental Spa, claims she was threatened with termination if she failed to comply with the demand. Rather than attending — something she contended would conflict with her Christian beliefs — she quit her position with Engel’s practice.
In the end, the decision to leave her position was a difficult one, especially considering that Muhleman claims to be the only person working full-time in her family at the time. In November 2009, she complained to the labor department’s civil rights division, which commenced the investigation.
“It weighed very heavy on me to have to make a decision like that for the future of my family,” she said of her choice to quit, according to Religion News Service (RNS).
The Bureau of Labor and Industries ended up siding with Muhleman, claiming that Engel “badgered” her about the conference and ignored her claims about her own personal faith and its conflict with Scientology. According to investigators, the dentist also turned down his employee’s request that she attend a secular conference instead.
The ordeal, Muhleman said, left her with lost income, a dearth of health care benefits and the need to leave Oregon so that she could find another job in a different state, KPTV-TV reports. The monies ordered to her will apparently cover her lost income, relocation expenses and emotional distress caused as a result of the incident.