Bittersweet - Cocolat and Scientology

Source: San Francisco Examiner
Date: March 21, 1993
Some of Cocolat's ex-workers claim that the company's newest ingredient is Scientology<

by Erin McCormick of the Examiner Staff

It was once the sweetheart of the Bay Area business world - a woman-run chocolate company that grew from a single storefront to a national success.

Now, two years since an employee's embezzlement forced the sale of Cocolat Chocolate Co., an unlikely mix is brewing at the company's Hayward plant: Scientology and chocolate.

The mixture has been volatile. Cocolat is the latest in a small but growing number of California companies whose employees claim religious harassment because their employers are using management techniques based on the teachings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Thirteen former management and administrative employees told The Examiner they quit Cocolat because they were disturbed by its use of Hubbard's management practices.

An additional six managers said Cocolat fired them after they resisted the management techniques.

The former employees say Cocolat's new controlling investor, Feshbach Brothers Inc., has brought not only new management but the religion of its owners as well.

"Scientology has scared away almost every good employee the company's had," said Brenda Vinson, a former store manager who in October filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim against Cocolat's then-president, Jeff Titterington, charging religious harassment.

Vinson claimed she was pressured to quit her job last July after openly criticizing the company's use of the Hubbard management techniques for employee training. Her resistance to the techniques, she said, led to negative performance, reviews and denial of a promotion.

Her complaint is pending.

Feshbach Brothers Inc. says it has never tried to push Scientology on Cocolat employees.

"I'm proud to be a Scientologist, but I respect the beliefs of others," said Joe Feshbach, who acted as spokesman for Feshbach Brothers Inc., a Palo Alto investment firm that includes his brothers Matt and Kurt Feshbach. The company took control of Cocolat in the fall of 1990 after an employee embezzled more than $500,000, forcing Cocolat founder Alice Medrich to sell her interest in the company.

"The fact is, Scientology came in and saved this company from going bankrupt," Feshbach said.

After Feshbach Brothers took over, the number of Cocolat's Bay Area stores blossomed from seven to 14, but since January the company has closed four stores, laid off some workers and had both its president and chief financial officer resign.

Feshbach said the charges that Hubbard management techniques infringe on Cocolat workers' religious rights are "bigoted, uninformed and small-minded" complaints from disgruntled former employees.

"We certainly would admit to the company going through an evolution from a family-owned business to a professionally-managed investor-owned company," he said, "There are come employees that didn't want to go along with that transition."

Scientologists believe the teachings Hubbard outlined in his book "Dianetics" are a path to happiness and success.

Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1950. It is now a multimillion-dollar organization that claims 8 million members in 71 countries. Hubbard died in 1980 after living in hiding for more than five years, amid Internal Revenue Service attempts to indict him far tax fraud.

Groups such as the national Cult Awareness Network have criticized the church far its hard-sell recruiting tactics and the tens of thousands of dollars it often costs members to complete Scientology training.

2 lawsuits have been settled

Two California companies have settled lawsuits by employees who claimed they were driven from their Jobs because of their refusal to study Hubbard materials, or follow certain Scientology practices.

A third company in Southern California that trains medical professionals, using Hubbard management techniques, is facing multiple lawsuits by clients who say they paid thousands of dollars for a management seminar that amounted to an intensive week of Scientology indoctrination and recruitment.

Susan Morrill Chun, Cocolat's former pastry manager, said she quit last fall after six years with the company because Hubbard's materials disturbed her and the work atmosphere degenerated as employees became upset about them.

"A lot of us had read about Scientology and had a pretty good idea that we didn't want to got involved with it," she said.

Chun said "undertones of religion" began to pervade the company's training courses and inhouse communications through references to Hubbard and the use of his terminology.

Chun and other former Cocolat employees said consultants from outside the company presented Hubbard's business theories to managers at seminars in November 1991 and March 1992.

"These three women came in with these books and they proceeded to tell us how they were going to better our lives," raid former store manager Phillip Everett, describing the November 1991 meeting.

He said the consultants presented problem-solving techniques and gave employees a workbook of Hubbard materials, which they were told they would be paid $50 to complete.

"It was like Scientology came in disguised as a management course," said Everett, "All the red lights went off for me. I felt like I was being brainwashed or something.

Cocolat employees unnerved

After the meeting, he said, "five or six employees called personnel and said if this happens again we quit."

Everett said Hubbard's influence also appeared in company memos.

One memo, dated Dec. 10, 1992, asked senior managers to stop "passing monkeys" (problems) to higher company officers and to reduce "dev-t" - a Scientology term meaning unnecessary work. The memo from then-company President Titterington, a Scientologist included an essay Hubbard had written on the subject.

Everett, who worked for Cocolat for three years, said he quit last spring, taking a $7,000-a-year pay cut just to get out of the company.

"I definitely felt like they wanted us to be pulled into something," said Everett. "If you've ever been held hostage at vacation Bible school that's what it's like. You have to listen to this stuff, You have no choice."

Feshbach said the Hubbard materials are secular and are designed to make managers more efficient and productive, not to influence their religious beliefs.

"The fact that it is L. Ron Hubbard doesn't imply anything negative," Feshbach said. "This (technique) is a common-sense approach that has worked for me."

Darlene Friccero, spokeswoman for the Scientology's San Jose branch said Hubbard developed his management techniques "to establish and strengthen organizations so they would last and expand."

"As with many of L. Ron Hubbard's discoveries they have wide application," she said.

But, a brochure distributed by the World Institute Of Scientology Enterprises, which is listed as publisher on many of the materials given to Cocolat employees, tells Scientologist company owners how the group's materials can help them recruit new converts.

"WISE members are controlling today's business environment through the dissemination of LRH Admin Tech. (Hubbard's management technique) which is resulting in thousands of new people winning and making it across The Bridge (joining Scientology) the brochure says.

In the brochure, one WISE member attests that her employer, Sterling Management of Glendale . recruited 109 clients to go through Scientology programs in a single quarter using the management technique.

Scientology officials declined to comment on the information in the WISE brochure.

Tony Plevin, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in civil cases against the Church of Scientology - for people seeking refunds, argues in her cases that Hubbard's management principles are in fact official Scientology scripture.

"One thing about Hubbard is that be was very astute at manipulation," she said. "The idea is that you hide the overt Scientology stuff.

Plevin said church members commonly bring Scientology into their businesses.

"Scientologists are strongly encouraged to be so devoted that they want to bring Scientology into every aspect of their lives, including their businesses," she said. "They then expect everyone to follow their principles."

Plevin's current cases involve Sterling Management, which recruits dentists, chiropractors and other medical professionals for week-long seminars in Hubbard's management techniques. The company, which bills itself as a secular organization promises to help medical professionals expand their practices using Hubbard's techniques.

A 1992 lawsuit filed by Plevin against Sterling charges that dentists David Miller, John Finucane and Alexander Turbyne signed up for a $17,000 Sterling management business seminar, but instead got a week-long "Scientology workshop" aimed at recruiting them into the church.

The suit claims that Sterling and Scientology representatives using anxiety-producing techniques, such as conducting lengthy sessions where they elicited private information from the plaintiffs, to persuade them to sign up for expensive Scientology counseling programs.

Each of the dentists was recruited into church programs, the suit says. Miller alone spent about $65,000 on Scientology counseling and the Sterling management course in less than six months, according to Plevin..

The church's Orange County chapter has settled with Miller and has given him a refund Plevin said. His case against Sterling is still pending.

Attorney Michael Stoller, who represents Sterling, said the plaintiff's allegations we unfounded. He said the dentists were informed in writing that they were signing up for a course based on Hubbard's writings. He said the training they received was non-religious.

"Sterling has basically taken information from the Scientology Church and secularized it," he said, "It's not intended to be religious."

"If an individual doctor is interested in signing up for courses with the Church of Scientology, they (Sterling employees) contact a representative from Scientology to meet with him," he said. "People have the freedom to choose."

Other lawsuits, involving use of Hubbard's management materials in the workplace, have been settled out of court.

In August 1992, Applied Materials Inc., a Santa Clara manufacturer of semiconductor equipment, settled a lawsuit filed by three former employees that charged they had been driven out of the company for refusing to attend Scientology management workshops. The amount of the settlement was undisclosed.

At the time of the settlement, Applied Materials released a statement saying it had "lacked sensitivity with regard to the controversial nature of L. Ron Hubbard."

In a similar 1990 case, plaintiffs Stuart and Molly Maesel received a settlement in a suit alleging that they were fired from their jobs as salespeople for Stryker Systems, a Glendale software company, for refusing to adopt Scientology practices in the workplace.

The Maesels charged that Stryker forced employees to "write up their overts and withholds," a Scientology practice that involves confessing bad thoughts or actions. When they refused, the Maesels said, they were fired.

Stoller, who represented Stryker in the Maesel case, said the Maesels were disgruntled employees.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Stoller made no acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

At Cocolat one former employee said she was asked to read Hubbard's book, "The Problems of Work' which includes a "first aid" section describing how to treat burns, braises and sprains by using a "Scientology assist," the equivalent of the religious laying on of hands.

Another text given to employees at Cocolat stated that if an employee's production stops increasing he is in a "condition of emergency" and must take a specified set of actions to improve his work.

Far example, it said, if an artist discovers his production level is stagnating, he should work through the night to complete his unfinished paintings and prepare them for sale the next day. Then he should learn to change his work habits.

Feshbach said he doesn't. know how many church members work at Cocolat because he doesn't ask applicants to state their religion.

Most new hires not Scientologists<

Current and former employees said, however, that aside from farmer company president Titterington, most of the people hired since Feshbach Brothers took over have not been Scientologists.

Some employees are not offended by the Hubbard management principals.

"Time management techniques are about the extent of what I've been subjected to," said Joe Guerreiro, Cocolat vice president of wholesale. "There is a new management philosophy. People have had to start writing memos and have an in basket and an out basket. Some people reacted negatively.

But former Cocolat operations manager Glen Ishikata, who quit last April, said employees who aren't receptive to Hubbard's management philosophy don't last long.

"(Cocolat's managers) felt that if you were not going to go along with the program, they'd rather bring in people who would," he said.

Former pastry chef Chun said the problems at Cocolat were experienced by too many people to be a figment of a few employees' imaginations. "All of us that were affected by it couldn't have been over-reacting," said Chun.

( categories: )