Worker sues Florida company, claiming Christianity forced upon her

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

A former employee for an audio lab company in Florida has filed a state court suit claiming she was harassed and fired for not taking part in company-sponsored religious activities.

Rosamaria Machado-Wilson, a New Smyrna Beach resident, was fired last year from BSG Laboratories, a product developer for the gaming industry. Machado-Wilson, represented by an Orlando law firm, filed a lawsuit in a state circuit court last week alleging that her rights under the state's civil rights act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were violated by the company's insistence on employee participation in Christian worship services during work.

The First Amendment's prohibition of government interference in religion does not cover private workplaces.

However, Title VII was added to the Civil Rights Act by Congress primarily to ensure that private employers did not violate workers' fundamental rights. The freedom to practice religion — or not — is a fundamental right also protected from government intrusion by the First Amendment. Specifically, Title VII bars employers from discriminating against workers because of their religion in hiring, firing and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also requires employers to accommodate reasonably the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would unduly hamper the employer's business.

Machado-Wilson, a former information systems manager, alleged in her lawsuit that BSG's director and owner, Myra Goldfarb, and other top officials harassed her and eventually fired her for complaining about the company's insistence that employees actively profess Christian beliefs. Although Machado-Wilson said Goldfarb told her before she started working that BSG was a Christian company, she claimed she had no idea that BSG's form of Christianity would be forced upon her during work.

“Starting after her employment began, Machado-Wilson and others in the work place were subjected to continual unwanted inquiries into and comments about their religious beliefs and practices; continual preaching to and attempting to proselytize employees,” Machado-Wilson claimed in her lawsuit.

According to the suit, BSG officials corralled workers into Christian worship, in part by:

— Insisting employees attend company prayer meetings.

– Giving employees religious literature to read and then quizzing the employees
on its content.

– Informing employees that they needed to be saved.

– Informing employees to repeat out loud that they accepted Jesus Christ as
their Lord and savior.

– Announcing to employees that co-workers had been saved and to 'come greet
your sister/brother in the Lord.'

– Telling employees when they would not cooperate that Satan was trying to
win them.

– Requiring employees to pray about the evils of Halloween.

– Informing employees that Catholics are not Christians and that the
Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) is a cult.

– Instructing employees to be baptized.

In late 1996, Machado-Wilson told a human resources officer of religious harassment but was told the company “had no formal policy for filing a written complaint,” according to the suit. Machado-Wilson was fired shortly thereafter in early January for failing to conform to BSG's at-work religious practices, her suit alleged.

Pamela Craig, Machado-Wilson's attorney, said that the former employee had “basically been harassed and terminated,” because she complained and then refused to participate in the company's religious services.

Machado-Wilson has asked the state court to force BSG to give her back pay and benefits, to reinstate her or provide her with compensatory damages.

Calls placed to BSG regarding the suit were not answered. The Orlando Sentinel, however, reported Sunday that BSG's lawyers had not filed a response and that they would not comment on the suit.