SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Court of Appeals has denied a Bend dentist's request for a stay of enforcement in a religious discrimination case in which the state said he ordered an employee to attend a Scientology-related forum.
Last year, an investigation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found that Dr. Andrew Engel ordered an employee to attend a Scientology-based training, despite the employee's concerns that the training conflicted with her religious beliefs.
In response, the state investigators said, Engel badgered the employee and refused to find a non-religious training alternative.
As a result, the employee eventually was forced to move out of state to find other employment, creating substantial expenses, stress and anxiety. The woman also endured separation from her teenage daughter during the subsequent job search.
"Dr. Engel attempted to force his employee to take a Scientology-based training, despite her religious objections," state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said Tuesday in announcing last week's Oregon Court of Appeals ruling.
"It is wrong and illegal to violate an employee's religious beliefs," he said. "No employee should be forced to quit a good job to get away from such a hostile work environment."
In a final order, Avakian directed Engel and his Bend dental practice, AWE Dental Spa, to pay nearly $350,000 in damages for the employee's lost wages, expenses and emotional strain.
Engel and AWE Dental Spa sought a stay of enforcement from the appeals court (Court of Appeals No. A152910).
In denying the motion late last week, the court found that Engel failed to provide sufficient information for a temporary halt to the order.
"We will hold employers accountable if they violate employees' civil rights," said Avakian. "I'm pleased that the Oregon Court of Appeals has denied this request by AWE Dental Spa to avoid taking meaningful responsibility for its discriminatory actions."
The Final Order can be found online here.
A BOLI spokesman said the next step is that the agency will send the judgment to the state Department of Revneue for collection. Any money that is paid will be held until the appeals court rules on other challenges filed by Engel, he said.
A recorded message on the dental office's phone says it's closed for a "transition" but expects to reopen this month.
Engel's attorney, Mark Gordon of Portland, said he had no immediate comment or response Tuesday on the recent ruling but that he might later.