Job-Bias Suit Alleges Dentist Promoted Religion In Workplace

Source: Providence Sunday Journal
Date: December 20, 1998

Susan Elizabeth Morgan asserts in her Superior Court complaint that Providence dentist Roger N. Carlsten fired her after she refused to take a course written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

In early 1991, East Side dentist Roger N. Carlsten told his young receptionist, Susan Elizabeth Morgan, that he wanted to promote her to office manager and boost her salary, according to a complaint Morgan has filed in Superior Court.

But first, according to Morgan's complaint, Carlsten insisted she take a special statistics course in "Hubbard Management Technology" written by the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Because she knew Hubbard had founded a controversial religion known as Scientology, and because she also knew that Carlsten was a Scientologist, Morgan said in her court complaint and in sworn testimony that she worried that the course amounted to religion in disguise.

She refused to take the course.

Not long thereafter, Carlsten fired her.

Now, Morgan's unusual employment-discrimination suit against Carlsten has begun playing out in Superior Court, with an evidentiary hearing last month on whether to dismiss or permit Morgan's claim for punitive damages to proceed to trial. A decision on that is pending.

The complaint, brought under the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, alleges that Carlsten failed to accommodate Morgan's beliefs as a Catholic and that Carlsten fired her "based on religion."

But Carlsten says religion has nothing to do with it.

Carlsten says he fired Morgan for "incompetence" and an "insubordinate attitude" concerning a new computer he bought for the office.

Morgan's six-page complaint alleges that Carlsten:

  • Integrated Scientology into work policy, insisting on its use by Morgan and coworkers.
  • Continually pressured Morgan for months to take the Hubbard Management Technology course, eventually stating she needed to take it "to remain qualified" for her job.
  • Created a "religiously intimidating workplace."
  • Failed to accommodate Morgan's religious beliefs by refusing her offer to take management courses "unrelated to Scientology."

Carlsten's lawyer, Sandra A. Lanni, of Warwick, says, "There is no religious issue here.

"There's a perception that this is a lawsuit against Scientology, and it's not," says Lanni. "These courses are strictly business courses" that she describes as "secular in nature."

While Morgan "is claiming the courses were religious, and that she was fired because she refused to take the courses, A, the courses weren't religious, and B, she was not fired for that reason, in any event."

In her opening argument during the recent hearing, Lanni argued that Hubbard Management Technology "is centered around the use of statistics."

"It is our position," she argued, "that Dr. Carlsten was not bringing something religious to the employees.

"He did not bring Scientology into his office, and there was no effort to recruit anybody" to Scientology through his dental practice.

"Susan E. Morgan vs. Roger N. Carlsten, DDS" attracted little attention during its first foray into the public arena, in this case a stately hearing room dressed in brass and mahogany in Superior Court, Providence.

Only two observers showed up for any length of time. Court sheriffs leaned back in their chairs as they took turns posting duty in the back row.

But playing out before Associate Justice Alice B. Gibney is a case that touches on the right to religious freedom, pursuit of which drove Roger Williams from the colony of Massachusetts in 1635. Banished, he rode south to found "Providence Plantations."

In Morgan vs. Carlsten, the religion in question happens to be Scientology.

Specifically, Morgan's lawsuit alleges that certain courses licensed by the church as "Hubbard Management Technology" are, in fact, Scientology-based, and therefore religious.

It promulgates the concept that certain "business arms" of Scientology are actually front organizations for the religion.

The central question is this:

Is "Hubbard Management Technology" simply a statistics course?

Or is it religion - specifically Scientology - in disguise?

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was a science-fiction writer from Tilden, Neb., who in 1954 created Scientology based in great part on his best-selling book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

But Scientology did not become a bona fide religion overnight.

For at least 30 years, the Church of Scientology International, or mother church, fought the IRS in court for tax-exempt status as a religious organization. The church finally attained that status in 1993.

As its main religious tool, Scientology uses an "E-meter," or electropsychometer, to "clear" people of unhappiness left over from past lives or traumas.

The E-meter is used in what are known as "auditing" sessions, to detect "low-level voltages" that presumably stem from trauma.

These days, Scientology has a high profile, partly owing to the number of Hollywood elite among its devotees, including Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. CNN's Greta van Susteren, legal commentator for the popular program Burden of Proof, is also a Scientologist, according to published reports.

Numerous articles published in the past decade involve allegations that Scientology is a thinly disguised, hugely profitable global empire that uses coercion and mind control on its recruits and actively combats its detractors.

"Like all new ideas, Scientology has come under attack by the uninformed and those who feel their vested interests are threatened," says the Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, whose headquarters is in Los Angeles.

As the "falsehoods are proven lies," says Jentzsch, "the controversy quickly fades."

Jentzch maintains that Scientology "differs from other religious philosophies, in that it supplies the means through which a person can increase his ability to effectively resolve life's problems.

"When properly practiced," says Jentzch, "Scientology enables one to develop in all aspects of life, both spiritual and temporal."

The evidentiary hearing in Morgan vs. Carlsten lasted two days, with plaintiff and defendant each spending hours on the stand. Morgan, 32, of Johnston, gave this account during direct testimony:

Educated at Mount St. Charles Academy, she finished one year of college before leaving due to financial reasons. Currently, she works with autistic children as a behavioral therapist with a human-services agency.

"I was born and raised a Catholic. I pray occasionally," she testified, "and follow the basic principles of the Catholic religion."

In 1990, when she was 24, she joined Carlsten's small staff of less than half a dozen at the office at 433 Lloyd Ave.

"I did front-desk secretarial work," she testified, "answering the phones, filing, making appointments, using the 'recall' system ... billing, making bank deposits" and other clerical duties.

Her salary: $250 a week, with "regular raises."

One day in February 1991, she said in her testimony, Carlsten told her he wanted to make her "office coordinator," involving "more responsibility and better pay," with one condition: first, Carlsten said, he wanted her to take courses with consultants from New Hampshire, a business-consulting firm known as Precision Management.

The first course was called "Management by Statistics."

Because she knew Carlsten had gotten involved with Scientology through a California group known as "Sterling Management," her first thought, she told the court, "was that Precision Management was a very similar name to Sterling Management."

Concerned, she called Precision Management in New Hampshire and asked "what teaching philosophy they used, and they said, 'Hubbard Management Technology.' "

"I was upset," Morgan testified, "because Dr. Carlsten hadn't made any mention of Scientology. I went to him and told him I was concerned. ... He tried to reassure me there was no religious element" in the course.

In several conversations that followed, during which Carlsten tried to reassure her the courses had no religious content, Morgan repeated her concerns.

"I felt that L. Ron Hubbard's involvement in the courses made them religious in nature," she testified before Judge Gibney.

Her concerns, she said, were not allayed.

"Did individuals from Precision Management come to your office?" asked Morgan's lawyer, Renee Bushey, of Boston.

"Yes. They came on April 1, 1991," Morgan testified. "All of his employees were there." Morgan told the court that one of them had a tape recorder.

"I asked them if they were members of Scientology," Morgan testified. "They said they were, but they denied" that the courses Carlsten wanted them to take "had any connection with Scientology."

"I found it upsetting. It did not help to ease my mind."

Bushey asked Morgan to read an excerpt from the course materials, which she said Carlsten had provided to her for review at the time.

From the glossary, Morgan read an explanation of "dynamics":

"The eighth dynamic is the urge toward existence as infinity. This is also identified as the Supreme Being. This is called the eighth dynamic, because the symbol of infinity stood upright makes the numeral '8.' This can be called the infinity or God dynamic.' "

"Had you ever heard these terms previously?" asked Bushey.

Yes, she replied, in other books on Scientology that she had read.

Morgan told the court that Carlston "ultimately told me that to remain qualified, I had to take these courses."

Distressed, Morgan asked Carlsten "why couldn't I take a course at a college such as Bryant? But he said these statistics were so specific that no other place could offer them."

In October of 1991, Carlsten arranged for a man introduced as the president of Precision Management of New Hampshire to meet with Morgan.

According to her testimony, Morgan and the consultant sat in Carlsten's private office for about two hours. The man, who identified himself to her as a dentist, "told me I had all of the qualifications for office coordinator, and all I needed was to take these courses," she said.

Then, "he asked me point-blank if I would be taking the courses."

Faced with "point-blank," she told him "No."

After that, "I was very worried. I asked what would happen to me, and I was told nothing. And nothing did happen, for a short while."

How was your relationship with Carlsten? Bushey asked her.

"We actually had a very good relationship. I felt he was friendly and cordial to me, and vice versa. And outside of the office, he was a very pleasant person to be with."

Several months later, Carlsten fired her.

Morgan told the court: "He asked to see me at the end of the day. He said that we were incompatible, that he was going to have to terminate me, and he said, quote, 'he needed someone who could be everything that he wanted them to be, and that included taking Precision Management courses.' "

After she left, Morgan brought her complaint before the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission. A preliminary investigating officer found "probable cause" to believe that Carlsten had violated the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act.

Morgan then sued, in Superior Court.

This is Carlesten's side of the story, summarized from his direct testimony:

Now 52, Carlsten told the court he has been practicing dentistry for 28 years, having earned his D.D.S. degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

In 1988, he took courses in Hubbard Management Technology in California, through a company known as Sterling Management. He heard about the courses after "responding to a flier in the mail" and attending a seminar in Providence about the program.

"Was there ever any discussion about Scientology?" at the seminar, asked his lawyer, Sandra A. Lanni.

"None whatsoever," Carlsten replied.

Deciding to pursue the courses, he traveled to Sterling Management in California for one week.

(Sterling Management is licensed by the Church of Scientology as a taxable corporation, according to church president Heber Jentzch.)

The course involved "communication, management by statistics and basic organization," Carlsten testified, as well as "how to interpret these statistics."

"Were any of the courses religious in nature, in your view?" Lanni asked.

"No," said Carlsten.

Having met some people "literally in the hall" during that week at Sterling Management who "mentioned Scientology" to him, a year later Carlsten decided to investigate Scientology.

"I was unhappy with my personal self," Carlsten told the court. "I thought this was something I could explore, to help me become happier."

He then traveled "to a Church of Scientology place in California," which, he explained, was "hundreds of miles away" from where he took the Sterling Management course.

"Did you embrace that religion?" asked Lanni.

"Yes," he said, but also testified that he still considers himself an Episcopalian.

In 1990, Carlsten retained the services of Precision Management of New Hampshire as business consultants "because they also were conversant with Hubbard Management Technology."

"Was it your intent when you hired them to bring Scientology into your office?" Lanni asked.

"No," Carlsten replied.

Carlsten, under his lawyer's questioning, discussed his employ of Susan Morgan.

He testified that he gave her "incremental increases" according to a promise at the time he hired her. He said her starting salary was $330 a week.

Asked if he recalled the meeting with Precision Management in his office referred to by Morgan in her testimony, Carlsten told the court: "Yes, I set it up to respond to questions my staff had."

When his staff repeatedly questioned if there was "a connection to Scientology," Carlston testified, the Precision Management consultants "acknowledged they were totally secular, totally nonrelated to religion."

Asked how Morgan reacted after the meeting, Carlsten said: "She still felt uncomfortable. My final assessment was, she was uncomfortable."

"Do you recall her asking if she could take a course elsewhere?" asked Lanni.

"Yes," Carlsten replied. "And I said that I didn't have any faith in the content of that course."

Carlsten told the court that he never made taking the Hubbard Management Technology course "any condition of retaining or advancing in her job."

In fact, he testified, he never offered Morgan a promotion to office manager.

Further, he had problems with Morgan, he testified, about which he tried to offer constructive criticism. For example, "if I asked for a form, it would take her a long time to return, to get it. My hygienist and I observed she did not recall patients who were overdue for their cleanings."

Also, said Carlsten, "she was not friendly enough. On numerous occasions, she would not even introduce herself."

His frustration built, he told the court, until finally, when he tried to introduce a new computer to the office, Morgan "was outraged," he said. "She never embraced the computer."

"Was her refusal to take the course in any way part of your decision?"

"No," said Carlsten.

"Sitting here today, Dr. Carlsten, do you view the Hubbard Administrative Technology as part of Scientology?"

"No," he replied.

"Do you perceive it as part and parcel of Scientology?"


"Was it your intent to bring it into your office ... to recruit people to Scientology?"


"What was your intent?"

"To improve the business aspect of my practice."

Lanni asked Carlsten his reaction to learning that Morgan had taken her complaint of employment discrimination to the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission.

"After I got over the initial shock - it just came out of the sky," he testified. "Distressed, upset, hurt. It was so invalid. So egregiously from outer space."

Cross-examining Morgan, Lanni asked her whether she had spoken to any Catholic priests when she was trying to evaluate how she felt about taking the Hubbard Management Technology courses.

"No," Morgan replied.

"Did you have a parish priest you could have spoken with about whether any of this was in conflict with your religious beliefs?"

"Yes, I could have," said Morgan.

Wasn't it fair to say, Lanni queried, that once you told Dr. Carlsten you didn't want to take Precision Management courses, he never asked you again?

Correct, Morgan replied.

Wasn't it also true, Lanni asked, that during the time Morgan worked for Carlsten, he made suggestions about her job performance, including wanting her to listen more carefully to patients, and requesting she do more patient recall?

Yes, Morgan replied.

As to her reaction when Carlsten brought in the computer, "You were angry, weren't you?" asked Lanni.

"I think my feelings were hurt," Morgan told the court,"more than anything else."

Cross-examining Carlsten, Bushey asked, "You understand that this case is about your religion infringing on someone else's employment rights?"

Carlsten: "Not my religion. No."

"And you're a Scientologist, correct?"


"You became a Scientologist in 1990?"


"You've taken courses in Scientology?"

"Yes." Then "I don't think of them as courses. I think of them, as, well, training routines."

"In 1990, you were appointed Mission Holder" in Providence?

"I might have been," said Carlsten.

Bushey asked Carlsten if he recognized a document she was holding.

"It is a confirmation of me being appointed Mission Holder in Providence."

Carlsten testified, however, that the mission center never got off the ground. Help he expected from a Boston Scientology center never came through.

"In Scientology, doesn't the word 'technology' refer to the religious scripture? Isn't 'Tech' a Scientology term?"

"No. It refers to 'technology,' " he said.

Asked if he had spoken to anyone in the past two months from the Church of Scientology about Morgan's lawsuit, Carlsten testified that he had.

"They concurred with me this was an outrageous, unjust attack on me, and it was very upsetting," he told the court.

Had he ever discussed Morgan's job performance with the Precision Management consultants?, Bushey asked.

Yes, Carlsten testified. "They told me that, in their view, she was unsuitable for that job position."

Had the Precision Management consultants ever recommended that Susan Morgan be fired?

"At one time or another, yes," Carlsten told the court. "Correct."

Judge Gibney has not yet filed her written decision on whether to allow Morgan to claim punitive damages at the trial, which is scheduled for Jan. 18.

When Gibney issues her written decision, sometime before Jan. 18, she will rule strictly on whether to allow Morgan to pursue her claim for punitive damages.

The trial, however, will determine whether Morgan was fired for lack of competence or because she declined to take courses in Hubbard Management Technology, courses she says are "based upon the principles of Scientology." These courses would have been taught to her by Precision Management, which she says is "connected with the Church of Scientology."

Heber Jentzch, the president of the Church of Scientology International, said in a telephone interview that he has not heard of Precision Management.

He described the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), a group that licenses private companies to teach Hubbard Management Technology, as "an autonomous corporation separate and apart from churches of Scientology," fully subject to all corporate income taxes.

WISE "was originally formed as a fellowship of Scientologist businessmen and women," said Jentzch, and has now "also taken on the task of making Mr. Hubbard's administrative technology available to the business community."

There are those who dispute that.

Robert Boston, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, of Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview that "the Scientologists often try and have it both ways.

"They spent a lot of time trying to convince the courts they are a legitimate religion," Boston said. "And they won that battle. They are now considered a bona fide, tax-exempt religious organization. But sometimes now they try and argue that they have this secular arm, when it suits their purposes."

Boston said that Morgan's lawsuit may lead the court to consider the question: "How far can you go with religion in the workplace? And more and more of these cases are ending up for the courts to decide."