7:44am PT by Eriq Gardner
Leah Remini Assistant Headed to Scientology's "Religious Arbitration" Despite Gun Accusation
Just how tough is it to escape the clutches of the Church of Scientology? Thanks to the Federal Arbitration Act, it's quite difficult.
The Church of Scientology is facing a rash of lawsuits for allegedly harassing former members. For example, there's an ongoing case by several women who say they've been stalked after telling the Los Angeles Police Department about sexual assaults by That '70s Show actor Danny Masterson. As previously detailed, the Church of Scientology is making the argument that these accusers agreed to ecclesiastical justice procedures when they first committed to practice Scientology. As such, the Church is seeking to compel their participation in "religious arbitration," where a panel of three arbitrators — each "Scientologists in good standing with the Mother Church" — will hear their claims and render their version of justice.
Then, there's a lawsuit from Valerie Haney, who is Leah Remini's assistant and whose story has been told on the A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
According to Haney, she was born into Scientology in 1979. Her parents were practicing members, and as a youth she lived at the organization's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. At the age of 15, she continues, she joined the organization herself and was allegedly made to sign a contract pledging a billion year commitment to Scientology. Thereafter, she says she was forced to do grueling manual labor seven days a week, under the auspices of leader David Miscavige. Eventually, she says she escaped the Church after making multiple requests, but not before she signed departure documents.
"During the routing out process, I was made to sign the departure documents in a room with only Scientology's general counsel and a man armed with a gun," she stated in a declaration in the case. "I do not know any of the contents of the documents I signed. I was not given copies of the documents. I signed any document that was given to me because I just wanted it to be over and to get out of there."
In her lawsuit, Haney alleges that after she was featured in Remini's show in Nov. 2018, the Church of Scientology disseminated false, defamatory and inflammatory information about her on a website. Haney also is looking to hold the Church liable for a video titled "Valerie Haney: Leah's Paid Liar."
In response, the Church of Scientology moved for arbitration in accordance with documents she signed.
Opposing the motion, Haney asserted that she was coerced into signing under threat of imprisonment. She also argued that the prospect of arbitration was substantively and procedurally unconscionable.
"Plaintiff’s Opposition shows that when she has neither the facts nor the law on her side, she reaches for the gun," stated the Church's reply memorandum. "She concedes the applicability of the substantive provisions of Federal Arbitration Act, which requires that the arbitrators decide the arbitrability and validity of her agreements with CSI. She does not dispute that she is a minister of CSI, meaning that this Court cannot adjudicate the terms of her relationship with CSI. She has no response to the long history of courts enforcing religious arbitration, including the same provisions involved here. Faced with her repeated commitments to arbitrate disputes with CSI, and her cashing a $4,500 check to reaffirm those commitments, she now says she was forced to sign her Departure Agreement while a man with a gun stood by. This claim is contradicted by her previous accounts of this meeting and the transcript of the meeting."
On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Burdge sided with Scientology on its contention that an arbitrator should get first crack at deciding whether the matter was arbitrable.
"While the arbitration agreements are broad, they are intended to be so to protect the religious doctrines of the Defendants and for them to be able to address challenges to their practices within religious, rather than secular legal structures," states the judge's order, rejecting the argument that what she signed was substantively unconscionable.
Turning to the issue of procedural unconscionability, the judge addresses Haney's charge that she was coerced into signing at gunpoint.
In pausing the case and sending the matter to arbitration, the judge writes, "While Plaintiff does specifically attest that a 'man with a gun' observed her sign the Departure Agreement, which, if true, may be circumstantial evidence that the Departure Agreement was entered into due to duress or coercion, but she does not explain what this man did to coerce her to sign. Also, it does nothing to show that the earlier agreements were entered into due to duress or coercion."
"Many of her allegations regarding 'brainwashing' and coercion involve the substance of her dispute over the Scientology practices that are part of its religious doctrine," continues Burdge. "Those are substantive questions that go to the merits of Plaintiff’s claims that should be resolved by the arbitrator."
Before it actually does go to arbitration, an appeal could be in the cards.