A Michigan dentist played Christian music in her office to "ward off demons" and held compulsory prayer meetings with staff, according to four former employees who are suing the dentist for religious discrimination.
Three of the former employees were eventually fired for protesting the dentist's practices, while a fourth resigned. Nancy Kordus, a former dental assistant, said she was fired in August 2014, a few weeks after submitting written requests to the dentist, Tina Marshall of Lake Orion, Michigan.
“We were all on edge. We were trying to be nice to the patients and do good dental work, but she kept forcing the music and her beliefs on us," Kordus said, according to The Washington Post. "Several patients questioned the music, and I turned it off and turned on the TV. So I was ‘disobedient.'"
Receptionist Sarah Bambard accused Marshall of firing employees who complained about the music and prayer meetings, and instructing Bambard to screen potential new employees, only hiring those who shared her religious beliefs.
The lawsuit alleges Marshall hired Craig Stasio, a local Christian minister, to "restructure" her practice in 2013, and says Stasio sat in on Bambard's interviews with prospective employees to ensure they met the religious requirement.
The new hires were mostly members of Stasio's ministry, the lawsuit alleges. A report by WJBK described Stasio's ministry as a "cult" and said Stasio surrounds himself with "young attractive women" who live in communal housing provided by Stasio.
The problems in Marshall's office began when she became a member of Stasio's ministry, the former employees allege.
Marshall is "being attacked in this lawsuit for her Christian beliefs, based solely on her desire to play religious music and radio stations in the dental office of the business that she owns," said her lawyer, Keith Jablonski.
“We believe that when the facts, and not baseless allegations, are presented to a jury, we will establish that this group of former disgruntled employees are simply looking to profit off of their own prejudices towards Dr. Marshall and her Christian faith,” Jablonski told The Washington Post. “Dr. Marshall flatly denies engaging in any discriminatory employment practices.”
Regardless of whether Marshall considers the music or prayer meetings discriminatory, “the basic question is whether the unwelcome religious statements and conduct are so severe or pervasive that they create a hostile, abusive working environment," said Daniel Mach, who heads the ACLU's Freedom of Religion and Belief program.
“Religious coercion in the workplace, whether implicit or explicit, is unlawful,” Mach told The Washington Post. “Bosses can’t force employees to pray with them or punish workers for not embracing or joining the employers’ faith.”