An Oregon man has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $750,000, claiming his employer fired him for refusing to attend weekly Christian Bible studies.
The plaintiff, Ryan Coleman, 34, a convicted felon and half-Native American, said the Albany, Ore.-based construction company, Dahled Up Construction, did not require its workers to attend weekly Bible studies until a month after he was hired as a painter, the Oregonian reported this week.
Joel Dahl, the company’s owner and founder, insisted his employees attend the studies as a condition of continuing employment, the lawsuit claims.
Coleman said he complied for nearly six months, fearing his past convictions would make finding other work difficult.
“I’m Native American and Christianity’s just not my thing,” Coleman told Fox News.
But in April, Coleman told Dahl he couldn’t attend the classes anymore and was fired. Coleman said he had received a pay raise only two weeks prior.
“I loved my job. I woke up every day excited to go to work. Not everybody can say that,” Coleman said.
Dahl, also a convicted felon, said he started his construction company to help other felons like Coleman get back on their feet, the Oregonian reported. Dahl’s attorney doesn’t dispute that Dahl requires employees to attend Bible study, but says it’s legal because Dahl pays them to attend.
"We believe that this requirement was not illegal. These are at-will employees and they were paid to go. It was part of their job, so they were expected to attend," Kent Hickman, an attorney for Dahl, told NPR.
"We believe that this requirement was not illegal. These are at-will employees and they were paid to go. It was part of their job, so they were expected to attend."
But Coleman's attorney, Corinne Schram, questioned the legality of the work requirement.
“Unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities,” Schram said.
“Unless you are a religious organization like a church, you cannot force your employees to participate in religious activities.”
Coleman is suing his former employer for $50,000 of alleged lost income and $750,000 for "mental stress, humiliation, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life," the lawsuit says.
Albany is located in northwestern Oregon, about 70 miles south of Portland. Coleman’s lawsuit was filed in Linn County Circuit Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.