Last October, Oregon native Ryan Coleman was hired as a painter at Dahled Up Construction, a company that remodels and renovates homes. Unbeknownst to him, owner Joel Dahl required employees to attend a company Bible study during work hours, something Coleman had no intention of joining since he’s not a Christian… and because such a requirement is illegal.
It didn’t matter. In April, Coleman was fired. Now he’s suing the company for religious discrimination. He’s asking for $50,000 in lost income as well as “non-economic” losses (including “mental stress, humiliation, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life”) of $750,000.
Almost makes you wish your own company made you read the Bible at work…
That excessive amount aside, he appears to have a solid discrimination case.
“This is so illegal,” said Corinne Schram, a Portland attorney representing Coleman. “Unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities.”
What’s Dahl’s defense in all this? His attorney says all the allegations are true — but nothing is illegal because Dahl pays his employees to attend the Bible study. (Spoiler: That’s not a valid defense.)
Dahl told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he’d struggled with drugs and alcohol and served time in prison for attempted second-degree assault. He said he’s been clean and sober for seven years. He started his company in 2016, with the idea of helping other convicted felons or people who’ve battled addictions rebuild their lives.
“I’m a second-chance employer,” Dahl said.
Coleman is someone who needed that second chance after coming out of prison on drug charges and child neglect, though he’s been sober for years now and just regained custody of his children.
But those personal dramas are irrelevant when it comes to the state’s religious discrimination laws, which seem very clear on this issue: Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of religion unless there’s “a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer’s business” (i.e. working in a church), and employers can’t retaliate against employees who have “opposed any unlawful practice.”
This should be a quick case since the facts aren’t disputed and the law seems black and white. The only question is when Coleman will finally be able to enjoy life again.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)