Claire Headley ("Claire"), wife of Marc Headley ("Marc"), who recently filed a lawsuit alleging labor law violations (which I wrote about here), has followed up her husband’s lawsuit with a similar lawsuit of her own. Claire’s complaint (which I converted to html here–the pdf can be read here) makes allegations similar to those by her husband, namely that Scientology violated California’s labor laws in failing to pay her minimum wage and overtime. Claire’s complaint largely mirrors her husbands with regard to the labor law claims, which I’ve already addressed (and concluded that they represent a potentially devastating threat to Scientology’s business model), so I’ll confine my remarks to the differences between her suit and her husband’s suit.
For one thing, Claire’s suit adds a significant defendant not present in Marc’s suit–Scientology’s Religious Technology Center ("RTC"), which sits above the also-named Church of Scientology International ("CSI") on the Scientology org chart. Whereas Marc worked exclusively for Golden Era Productions, an unincorporated entity under the CSI umbrella, Claire worked a variety of jobs including as a secretary for David Miscavige, the effective head of every Scientology entity, and the Chairman of RTC. CSI is considered the "mother church" and most of the management structure falls under it, but RTC controls Scientology’s trademarks and copyrights, and thus serves as the black hole into which the bulk of Scientologists’ money disappears.
More significant than the additional defendant is Claire’s claim that she was "ordered and coerced to have abortions by [Scientology] management." Paragraph 28 of the complaint states:
Plaintiff Headley worked for Defendants CSI and RTC for many years before her escape in 2005. During this time, Plaintiff became pregnant on two occasions. Plaintiff was ordered to terminate these pregnancies by forced abortions. Plaintiff is aware that this was a relatively common practice at Gold Base. Plaintiff has knowledge of approximately twenty other female employees ordered to have abortions.
Alongside the forced abortion allegation, Claire complains of other "unlawful and unfair business practices," namely: (i) "retaliation against Plaintiff’s family business and others for pursuing labor claims"; (ii) human trafficking; and (iii) unlawfully requiring lie detector testing through the use of Scientology’s "e-meter." These claims are not causes of actions in and of themselves, but are rather individual arguments in support of a larger unfair competition claim under California’s Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq. Claire also employs the forced abortion allegation as a separate common law discrimination claim.
Claire’s forced abortion allegation comes well corroborated.
In a 1986 affidavit, ex-Sea Org member Mary Tabayoyon stated: "The September 28, 1986 Flag Order No. 3905 forbade Sea Org members from having any more new children. The reason given by ED Int. was that the Sea Org simply did not have the time, money and resources to raise children properly."
In a 1998 declaration, Jesse Prince stated: "In late 1991, my wife Monika became pregnant and although we were elated, she was ordered to abort the child. The reason for the abortion order is that Sea Org members were not allowed to have children."
In a 2001 declaration, Tera Hattaway spoke of the coercive techniques used to encourage abortion: "She went on to tell me that the spirit doesn’t enter the baby’s body until the baby is born. She made the point that all I would be “killing” is a piece of meat essentially. We discussed this for a couple of days and she showed me definitions in the L. Ron Hubbard Technical Dictionary to persuade me to have an abortion."
In a 2001 declaration, Astra Woodcraft stated: "Approximately 1½ years before I left, a new rule came out stating that if you got pregnant, you had to either get an abortion, which was heavily pushed, or leave. The rule had previously been that if you got pregnant, you had to get an abortion or be sent to a small and failing lower organization where you had to fend for yourself and your baby."
Scientology generally responds by labeling its accusers liars and apostates, but the excerpts above are but a sample of the countless other ex-members who have stated the same–the corroboration is on a level too vast and broad to dismiss so lightly. These stories share a commonality of motive and purpose: Scientology coerces and forces abortions because pregnant staff members are simply bad for business, due to the added expenses involved in the medical needs for pregnant women, the time lost when the pregnant woman cannot work, and the expense involved in providing day care when the child is born. The one-time cost of an abortion solves the problem.
Claire also alleges human trafficking, also as part of a larger unfair competition claim. Unlike the forced abortions allegation, there is a statutory analogue for human trafficking, namely California Penal Code § 236.1, which states that "[a]ny person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to … obtain forced labor or services, is guilty of human trafficking." Section 236.1 goes on to define "unlawful deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another" as the "substantial and sustained restriction of another’s liberty accomplished through fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person[.]"[FN1]
While human trafficking has obviously been going on for centuries, United States law has only recently begun to address the topic, mostly in response to women’s groups bringing attention to the women being brought into the United States to work as prostitutes. While the California legislature likely didn’t have Scientology in mind when it passed the statute, it nevertheless appears broad enough that Claire could assert a claim under the CTVPA independently,
although California does not explicitly provide civil remedy to trafficked persons. [CORRECTION: California Civil Code 52.5 provides a civil cause of action for human trafficking–see end of post for update] Professor Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyala Law School created an instructive Powerpoint presentation, entitled "Civil Remedies for Victims of Human Trafficking" in which she extrapolates on the civil options available to victims of human trafficking, noting that the Federal human trafficking statute, upon which the California statute is modeled, provides a private cause of action.
Kim also suggests that civil human trafficking claims could be brought under the Thirteenth Amendment (involuntary servitude); the
Alien Tort Claims Act; RICO; the Fair Labor Standards Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; Contract, tort, or negligence claims; or under state labor codes, which is what Claire Headley has done here, alleging human trafficking as part of her unfair business practices claim.
If the court were to rely on the penal code definition (stated above), Claire would have to show that Scientology "substantially restricted" her liberty through "deceit" or "coercion" because Scientology intended to obtain her forced labor. This does not seem an especially difficult task, although there would be a question as to which burden of proof would be employed (the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden is more difficult to show than the civil "preponderance of evidence" standard).
Claire’s complaint also departs from Marc’s in one other interesting way in that it specifically requests "A permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants and their agents for ordering and/or coercing abortions with respect to their employees." A similar request for a permanent injunction affecting non-parties going forward is presently at the heart of the Godelman v. Diskeeper lawsuit, presently ongoing in the same court (and which I’ve written about extensively on this blog, for which I’ve received legal threats from Diskeeper’s counsel). In that case, Diskeeper’s Scientologist lawyer, Tim Bowles, objected to an injunction prayer for relief that, if granted, would prohibit Diskeeper from requiring any employee to study, adopt, or apply L Ron Hubbard’s "Managment Tech" or "Study Technology" and thus moved to strike it from the complaint on the basis that it implicated Diskeeper’s religious freedom (despite their somewhat hypocritical argument that Hubbard Management and Study Technology are not religious). . Diskeeper’s motion to strike has not yet been ruled on but it would be interesting to see if Scientology responds to Claire’s request for prospective relief in the same manner.
The forced abortion and human trafficking allegations serve to bolster an otherwise decent claim, although the unfair business practice claim may turn to some degree on the nature of Claire’s work, which isn’t made entirely clear in the complaint (Scientology will want to argue that Claire’s work was religious in nature, so further scrutiny will likely be paid to precisely what Claire did for CSI and RTC). But unlike Marc’s suit, which focuses primarily on minimum wage and overtime pay, if it were found that Scientology engaged in tortious behavior by forcing and coercing abortions or engaging in human trafficking, a religious exemption argument may not be available to them, regardless of what Claire did for each organization. Religious organizations are as liable as secular ones for their tortious acts.
In sum, Claire’s claim would seem to have a decent chance of success at trial, assuming she can prove her allegations to a jury; but if history is an accurate indicator, Scientology will go to significant lengths to make sure it doesn’t get that far. Miles to go before we sleep, but the vehicle is promising for a change.
* [FN1] For a concise summary of the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, see Michael C. Payne, The Half-Fought Battle; A Call for Comprehensive State Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation and a Discussion of How States Should Construct Such Legislation, 16 Kan. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 48 (2006).
UPDATE: California Civil Code 52.5 provides a civil cause of action for human trafficking. To summarize the statute, the civil cause of action defines human trafficking identically to California’s Penal Code (section 236.1), and provides a range of remedies (actual (treble), compensatory, and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs). The statute of limitations is five years tolled from the "freedom date," or until the victim turns 26 (8 years past majority), if trafficking occurred while underage. Perhaps quite significantly, the statute of limitations can even be tolled (won’t begin until a later time) if the victim was under a "disability" at the time the trafficking took place–disability could mean "insanity, imprisonment, or other incapacity or incompetence " If the defendant induces the delay in filing (e.g., threats, duress), they’re estopped (legally prevented) from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense. Moreover, if the statute of limitations is suspended due to a disability, the estoppel applies to all other related claims arising out of the trafficking.