Thursday, 8 January 2009

1 Marc Headley's lawsuit

Scientology leader David Miscavige has been targetted in a lawsuit from a former member who says he and fellow workers were subjected to assault, threat and menace.

Scientology’s leader David Miscavige – a close friend of Tom Cruise – has been accused of violence and intimidation in a lawsuit filed by a former member.

And former member Marc Headley has also alleged that the regime at the movement's base in Hemet, California resembled "a prison camp" in which workers were subjected to sometimes "severe" punishment.

Headley says he was beaten up by Miscavige during his time as a staff member with the organisation. Headley, 35, says he also saw several of his colleagues assaulted.

And he claims the multi-million-dollar organisation illegally employed child labour.

Headley worked for Scientology from the age of 16, between 1989 and 2005, at Golden Era Productions, in Hemet, California, making films, videos and promotional materials for the movement.

Workers were intimidated by “assault, threat and menace”, says his complaint, which was filed against the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology International (CSI) on January 5 and amended the following month.

Scientology “worked its employees to exhaustion” to ensure a “compliant workforce,” says the complaint.

“For example, to keep him in line, [Headley] was assaulted by the leader of the Scientology enterprise. This was a show of power and domination. [Headley] observed such heavy-handed tactics used against his co-workers…

“Scientology controls its workers by depriving them of a living wage and keeping them dependent upon the Scientology enterprise for the basic necessities of life,” says the complaint.

It also argues that because CSI illegally employed children there, some of the Scientology products “may be subject to seizure as ‘hot goods’ under the child labor laws.”

Miscavige, 48, is a close friend of celebrity member Tom Cruise and served as best man at his November 2006 wedding to actress Katie Holmes.

He works out of the high-security compound where Golden Era Productions is based, and Cruise has often visited him there. The site is also known as Gold Base, and the International Base.

“Gold Base resembles a prison camp,” the complaint alleges. “A razor-wire topped fence encircles Gold Base with sharp inward pointing spikes to prevent escape. The gates are guarded at all times, preventing employees from freely coming and going.

“Security guards patrol the grounds, motion sensors are placed throughout, and surveillance posts surround the perimeter, all of which are intended to keep workers in the facility. One cannot leave without permission and permission is seldom granted except to a select few.”

Workers’ mail was opened and foreign employees had their passport taken from them, it adds.

The complaint also describes a punishment camp known as the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). “Workers assigned to the RPF are subjected to a brutal regimen of manual labor, have no freedom of movement and are subjected to almost total deprivations of personal liberties.”

“Working conditions on the RPF are so horrible that its mere existence serves as a deterrent and intimidates workers … into a state of fear and mindless obedience …” says the complaint.

“The RPF is arguably more severe in punishment and violations of personal liberties than solitary confinement in prison... Sleep deprivation and poor nutrition were routine.”

Headley says staff at Gold Base often worked seven-day weeks totalling more than 100 hours for far less than the minimum wage.

In California, the minimum wage is currently eight dollars an hour: between 1989 and 2005, when Headley worked for Scientology, it rose from $4.25 to $6.75. Headley calculates he was earning about 39 cents an hour during this period.

But the complaint says: “Workers such as Plaintiff Headley were told that Scientology does not have to pay them minimum wage or give them any rights because it's a church, and/or workers have waived rights.’”

In 1993 the US Internal Revenue Service decided that Scientology and many of its affiliated organizations were operating “exclusively for religious or charitable purposes” and granted the movement tax-exempt status.

But attorney Barry Van Sickle, who filed the complaint on behalf of Headley argues in the complaint: “Defendant CSI misconstrues what it can get away with in the name of religion.”

The movement's religious status, which itself “is subject to serious dispute,” does not trump California's employment laws, he says.

“There is no constitutional right to exemption from minimum wage and child labor laws.”
Headley’s allegations echo those made in the past by other former Sea Org members about the use of under-age workers. In a 2001 affidavit for example, Astra Woodcraft, who grew up in a Scientology family, told how she was recruited at the age of 14.

“They told me that if I joined their group, I would get paid minimum wage (which was several hundred a week, a lot of money for a 14 year-old); that I would not have to wear a uniform like most Sea Org members; and that I would go to school and finish my education.”

None of these promises were honoured, she wrote. She never completed her high school education and from age 14 she was working a minimum 14-hour day, seven days a week.

During one three-week period in 1995, “when I was still a minor”, she and other staff had to work around the clock on a special project. In 1995 she would have been 16 or 17 years old.

Although she was given the task of waking up colleagues to get them back to work, she too was struggling to stay awake, she said.

“I got approximately two hours of sleep a night during this time, but many times got no sleep for two or more days.

“I was ordered to drive around even though I was falling asleep and incoherent due to no sleep. One time I parked my car and accidentally fell asleep and woke up three hours later because a meter attendant was knocking on my window.”

Maureen Bolstad, another former Sea Org member, also says that promises made to her when she was recruited were never honoured.

Her mother agreed to let her and her brother join the Sea Org in Clearwater, Florida, on the understanding that they would finish their high school education, she said.

She was 16 when she left her California home for Florida; her brother was only 14. “As soon as we showed up in Clearwater I said ‘Okay, I need to go to school,’” said Bolstad.

“The person that was assigned as my immediate senior there said ‘Oh, you don’t want to go to Clearwater High School, they’ll just throw eggs at you and call you a ‘Scieno’ [Scientologist], they’ll just try to brainwash you – you don’t need public school. Just work with us.’

“I was a little bit confused and my Mum got upset because nobody asked for my school records and the school was confused because nobody sent for my school records (but in the end nobody actually did anything).”

In the end, they both ended up working for Scientology and neither got their high school diploma. Her account of the hours worked at the International Base tallies with the statements made in Marc Headley’s lawsuit.
Van Sickle has introduced the complaint as a test case, aimed at clearing the path for other workers inside Scientology to get proper compensation.

He has asked for a jury trial, payment of back wages for his client and appropriate measures to be taken against Scientology for any breach of the employment laws.

But Headley is not alone in alleging violence and abuse inside the movement.

For a legal analysis of this lawsuit, see Scott Pilutik's blog here.

Next: Accusing Miscavige

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

5 Marc Headley's Story

Former Scientologist Marc Headley’s September 2008 speech in Germany marked a significant development in the campaign against the movement.

On September 4, 2008, Marc Headley adressed an invited audience in Hamburg, Germany about his experiences inside Scientology. Headley, in his mid-30s, explained that he had spent most of his life in Scientology: his mother had got involved in the early 1980s, when he was six years old.

From the ages of 12 to 16 he had been enrolled at a Scientology school before being signed up for what he called the “paramilitary branch of Scientology”, the Sea Organization. He worked in increasingly senior positions at Scientology’s International Base, in California, alongside the movement’s current leader, David Miscavige.

“During my 15 years working at the Scientology headquarters I witnessed and was exposed to many things that I will never, ever be able to erase from my mind,” he told the audience.

Headley talked about the long hours; he talked about the poor nutrition and the lack of basic medical care; and he described the abuse that executives routinely heaped on their staff: from bawling out subordinates to physical assaults.

For the entire time he was there he and many of his fellow workers, who included children as young as 14, were working on average 100 hours a week.

“When I left in 2005 I was averaging three to four hours' sleep a night and in some weeks I was putting in over 130 hours a week working.” He and his co-workers – sometimes as many as 100 people – would sometimes stay up three or four nights in a row to get the job done.

If Headley's figures are accurate, 130 hours a week on a seven-day week comes to 18.5 hours a day, which makes three to four hours' sleep about right. Jeff Hawkins, another veteran of the International Base, has also said that in his last four years at the Base, he was averaging four hours a night.

Headley continued: “This is not some deep, dark secret … It's a way of life there: everyone there is working those many hours. When you work at the facility at the International headquarters you can’t just say ‘I’m tired, I want to go home’ … You are there until you are done, and if that means you stay there all night you stay there all night, you don’t have any choice in the matter whatsoever.”

After he left, he sat down and worked out how much he had been getting paid during his time there: by his calculations, it came to an average 36 cents an hour, perhaps as little as 1,000 dollars a year (revised to 39 cents in the lawsuit he filed in January 2009). "When you get paid a thousand dollars a year and you want to leave, it's very hard because you don't have any money."

The exhausting schedule, the lack of sleep and the poor nutrition affected his health, said Headley. At one time, at 5’10” (1.78 metres) in height he weighed little more than 100 lbs (45 kilos), having lost more than 60 lbs over six months due to the work rate and lack of sleep.

Headley also talked about the lack of medical care. When recruited, staff members were routinely told that their medical expenses would be paid: but this was simply not the case, he said. If staff members wanted even basics such as prescription contact lenses or spectacles, they would have to join a waiting list of as many as 300 people.

If you were really sick, it was treated not as a physical sickness but as a mental or psychological problem, he said. You were told you were a Potential Trouble Source (PTS), a Scientology term that means that you are in contact with a Suppressive Person, someone hostile to Scientology. You needed to handle that to deal with your illness. Former members believe that this approach to physical health helps explain why some Scientologists with serious, sometimes terminal illnesses sought medical attention far too late.

Headley also accused the movement's leader of violence. “I myself on at least 10 different occasions have witnessed David Miscavige actually physically strike other staff members to the ground, strike staff members so many times – or damage them physically – that they actually needed medical attention or that a medical officer from the facility would have to come and bandage them or treat them.”

Towards the end of his presentation, Headley said: “I have been to many Scientology organisations around the world as well. I have been to I’d say at least 100 different Scientology organisations in my 15 years of working for Scientology and I can tell you that I have witnessed the abuses that I have mentioned above in every single one of these organisations.”

Everything Headley said that day has been confirmed by other former members of Scientology’s self-styled elite, the Sea Org: by Jeff Hawkins and John Peeler on the record, and by other former members not yet ready to go public.

But Headley’s decision to speak out was especially significant.

For more than two years already, he had been posting under the pseudonym “Blownforgood” on one of the main message boards for critics of Scientology: Andreas Heldal-Lund’s Operation Clambake.

When he first appeared in February 2006, Blownforgood – or BFG as he became known – quickly impressed the growing ranks of former senior Scientologist executives with his knowledge of life at Gold, or the International Base. Other recent defectors posted to confirm the details of his reports.

Generally acknowledged as among the best informed of the former members posting there, his reports became eagerly awaited events.

Sprinkled among the insider gossip and in-jokes, BFG revealed glimpses of the increasingly oppressive regime at the Base. He chronicled – almost in passing – the broken marriages as one partner was forced to abandon another when he or she fell from grace; Miscavige’s screaming rages; and how young women at the base were pressured into having abortions if they fell pregnant (it is either that or they quit the Sea Org).

Similar allegations had already been made in affidavits from previous defectors, some as far back as the mid-1990s. And here again, the new wave of Sea Org defectors confirmed BFG’s reports in their own Internet postings.

While Headley had already been speaking to journalists on a non-attributable basis, it was only in 2008 that he started to speak out publicly – and it was only the day after his Hamburg speech that he unmasked himself as BFG in a posting to Operation Clambake.

Headley and two other former Scientologists who spoke in Hamburg were the guests of the Scientology Task Force, which is headed up by Ursula Caberta, one of the movement’s most vocal opponents.

The last time comparable hearings were held in the United States was in 1982, in the city of Clearwater, Florida, when the authorities responded to the growing influence of the movement there.

Since then, so far as the United States is concerned, there has been very little official scrutiny of the movement – except inside the courts.

For more on Marc Headley/Blownforgood, see his website here.

Next: Jeff Hawkins' Story