An Oregon man is suing his former employer for $800,000 after he got fired for refusing to attend mandatory on-the-job Bible studies, The Oregonian is reporting.
Ryan Coleman, 34, had a hard time finding work after doing a stint in prison for drug-related crimes. Those he’s gotten clean and sober since then, and indeed, even regained custody of his children, it was still hard for him to find work, being an ex-felon. However, finally found a hand up through Joel Dahl, who also has had issues with drugs and has done time. Dahl says he gives felons a second chance by hiring them to work for his construction company, Dahled Up Construction.
However, after he was hired, Coleman learned that there was a catch: he, and all other employees, would have to attend Bible studies with a Christian pastor. The Bible studies took place during the work week, while employees were on the clock.
Dahl’s website is filled with references to God and the Bible.
“Fixing up this old house at times I was discouraged ’cause there was so much to fix. But Me and God did this together and we got er done.”
Coleman, who is part Native American and says he practices indigenous beliefs, at first went along with it for the sake of keeping his job. But after about six months, Coleman told his boss that his days of attending Bible study were over.
“I said ‘I’ve kept an open mind, and it’s just not my thing.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to replace you.’ He said ‘You’re not going to tell me how to run my own company.’ I said ‘I’m not trying to tell you how to run your own company, but you’re not going to tell me what god to pray to.'”
Coleman was fired in April; this week, he filed suit.
Coleman’s lawyer, Corinne Schram, says that federal and Oregon law are both pretty clear: you can’t force your employees to adhere to a religion or participate in religious observances.
“This is so illegal. Unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities.”
Dahl’s Albany attorney, Kent Hickam, however, doesn’t see the issue as so cut-and-dry. He freely admits that his client requires his employees to attend Bible study, but says it’s perfectly legal because it’s done on-the-clock and they’re being paid to do so.
“Mr. Dahl feels that it’s unfortunate that he (Coleman) is now trying to exploit Mr. Dahl’s honorable intentions for unjustified financial gain.”