Day 3 (May 27): the second plaintiff in the Paris trial of Scientology told the court how her employer put her under ever-increasing pressure to take the movement’s courses.
Having heard from defendant Didier Michaux and again from Jean François Valli, the president of the tribunal called the next plaintiff: Nelly Reziga.
Before asking Reziga to speak, Judge Sophie-Hélène Château read a brief summary of her story from the case files.
In October 1998, Reziga was hired to work for an estate agents (realtors) run by Max Barbault – part of the recruitment process had involved filling in a personality test, though at the time Reziga was not aware of the Scientology connection.
Judge Château asked Reziga to tell the court her story.
The first day she met Barbault and she did the test. He told her there were some things that were not going well for her. He had suggested she needed help.
“I said I felt fine and I refused,” she said.
At that point, she did not realise that her boss was a Scientologist.
“I started to have my doubts…” she said. But she could not put her finger on what was wrong. It was only when she found stocks of Scientology books lying around the office that she began to understand.
It became clear too, that at least some of the other employees were Scientologists.
She realised something was not right when she didn’t receive her monthly salary. “I asked why, and they said … that it was down to me,” she recalled.
Before she ever joined the agency, she had heard of Scientology – she had heard it was a cult – but other than that she would have been incapable of saying what it was.
It was about two months into her time at the agency that Barbault again recommended she take a communications course.
“Little by little, he insisted. He harassed me to go to a course,” she said. And in the end, she went to visit Scientology's Celebrity Centre. The people there were very nice to her.
But she was troubled by a second personality test that she filled in there – a longer test than the first one. “It struck me as very, very strange. Some questions said the same thing, but rephrased.”
She spent some money – about 1,000 francs (150 euros) – on the Communications Course. But she never finished the course.
“I went three times and then I refused to continue….”
Why, asked the judge?
“You had to look people right in the eyes without flinching. I couldn’t do that so they proposed me other things, which I refused.”
But why had she done it in the first place?
“When he said, ‘All you have to do is a course,’ for me, that was an hour or so, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”
But why could you not say no, the judge asked?
“Because he was always after me, all the time,” said Reziga.
She tried to tell him she did not have the time to do the course. He told her to do it in the evening. “But I have children,” she said.
She felt they were trying to “pull me in, to confuse and to pull me in,” she said. But she kept resisting.
They offered to sell her an electrometer, a device used in Scientology auditing, their confessional therapy sessions; they offered to put her on the Purification Rundown, the programme involving high doses of vitamins, running and then hours in a sauna: “…but I always refused.”
She refused the Purification Rundown, for example, because it was too expensive. “I don’t remember the prices – but I do remember a course that was much more than my monthly salary.”
'He didn’t stop harassing me'
Word got back to Barbault from the Celebrity Centre that Reziga was not buying courses.
“He knew that I had refused the course because it was too expensive. He proposed to lend me the money. I refused,” said Reziga. “He said a Scientology course could bring me lots of benefits.”
Before long, the situation at work had deteriorated.
“My relations [with Barbault] at work were very tense. He kept shouting at me for all kinds of things,” the way she dressed, for example, she said. “An hour of this treatment was very hard to take and it happened a lot.”
Barbault also tried to get her take vitamins, but again, Reziga said no. “I refused to take them because they smelled very bad.” Nor did she like the look of the home-made labels.
Things got worse still when Barbault and a colleague sought her help expanding their business into her apartment block.
Barbault wanted to step up from managing individual apartments to the maintenance of whole buildings and the contract came up in the block where Reziga lived.
They wanted her support at the meeting to decide who got the contract when the issue came up at the meeting of the building’s co-owners.
“Things were already going very badly between us: during a general meeting, I did not vote for his agency,” said Reziga. “There was an explosion.”
Barbault laid into her the next day, she said: “I was the last of the last, and I was given three days’ notice – that was like a breath of fresh air.”
The harassment continued however, with not just Barbault but at least one other member of staff verbally assaulting her on a regular basis. So she went to the police to complain.
Barbault kept it up, phoning her home and harassing her husband and children, so she went back to the police to make another statement. And after several such visits the police called him in.
“He didn’t stop harassing me,” she said. “He was trying to prove something: he told me he wanted me to withdraw my complaint.
“He tried to convince me that Scientology was what I needed. He took me to the police station so I would withdraw my complaint [but] the police officer said even if I withdrew my complaint it would go forward. Some time afterwards, I was fired.”
Olivier Morice, her lawyer, asked her more about the questionnaire she had filled in when she was recruited. She recalled one question about suicide.
“That seemed to me very strange for a recruitment interview,” said Reziga.
(Question 113 on the standard test is: “Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?”)
And when she took the second personality test at the Celebrity Centre, she did not like the way the questions were going when they did the interpretation.
“There was a strong emphasis of intrusion into my private life,” she said. “They tried to get me to talk… to find my faults,” she recalled. “They absolutely wanted to find my problems.”
One of the reasons she had done the Communications Course was she thought that afterwards they would leave her in peace, she said.
“I broke down in tears”
At work too, she found Barbault’s attitude disturbing: “He always tried to bring me down,” she said.
He also asked personal questions that she found completely inappropriate. “He tried to find something dishonest [about me]. I said ‘Look, I wouldn’t even take the metro without paying.’”
Barbault even asked her if she was cheating on her husband, she said. “These kinds of questions seemed completely irrational.”
He also started taking her into an office of the agency and subjecting her to sessions of questioning – sessions that could last a long, long, time, she said.
One such session she remembered in particular. “I broke down in tears and he changed his attitude and started to smile.”
Had the people at the Celebrity Centre asked her about her income, asked Morice?
“I think so,” Reziga replied. But in any case, they knew that Barrault had taken her there.
For the defence, Maître Patrick Maisonneuve put it to her that Barrault had advanced her the 1,000 francs for the Communications Course.
“No,” said Reziga. “I had refused advances several times, because I argued they [the courses] were too expensive.”
And did you ask for a refund, said Maisonneuve?
“No. I felt a bit ashamed for having been drawn in – and I was so happy to be out of there.”
But hadn’t she known Barbault was a Scientologist when he arrived at the job? No, said Reziga, it was perhaps two months before she knew.
But she had heard Scientology was a cult, said Maisonneuve. Yes, she answered.
And she recalled what Barbault had said when he showed her the results of her personality test: “He concluded that I was intelligent and capable, but that I had a slight problem.”
There was some confusion among the defence over why she had been unable to finish the Communications Course: she had said in court that she had had to stare at someone with her eyes open, but had told investigators she had her eyes closed during the training.
That was an earlier exercise, she explained, when you sat opposite each other with your eyes closed. “It was restful.” She recalled another when she had to sit and repeat phrases; and another when she had to change her tone of voice.1
But she was not impressed by one of the introductory films. “I slept during the film – and I told them so.”
With Barbault, she said: “I was insulted, I was harassed,” she spoke of “a torrent of insults.” On those occasions, no blow was to low, she said: “Tout y passait.”
And for her, that was linked to his being a Scientologist. “He tried to demolish me, to drag me into the dirt.”
Max Barbault would have been the seventh individual defendant at the trial in Paris: he was named in the indictment handed down by investigating magistrate, Jean-Christophe Hullin, in September 2008. But Barbault died before the case came to trial.
He had denied the charge of attempted fraud against Nelly Reziga.
Even after Reziga left the agency, she received letters from the Celebrity Centre: brochures accompanied by signed letters, trying to get her to come back in for courses. They only stopped when she changed addresses.
Nelly Reziga has an employment tribunal hearing pending regarding her dismissal.
Next in the series: The Psychiatrist's Testimony
1 This is clearly a reference to the training routines, or TRs, in Scientology's Communications Course, which critics have described as trance-inducing exercises that make participants more susceptible to suggestion. The Communication Course is often offered to newcomers to the movement.