Eight former DeKalb Farmers Market supervisors who accused market owner Robert Blazer of requiring them to attend quasi-religious seminars or risk losing their jobs have settled their federal lawsuit out of court.
The lawsuit, which followed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint by the employees, has prompted new EEOC guidelines on such programs, according to Amy Totenberg, the employees's attorney.
Those guidelines now specify that an employee needs only to show that a training program conflicts with his religious beliefs for his complaint to be upheld. Federal law prohibits employers from including religious requirements in terms of employment.
Details of the settlement, reached Tuesday, were not made public.
"It was settled amicably," Mr. Blazer said Wednesday. "But the terms of the settlement are not available."
Mr. Blazer, who joined a "New Age cult" called The Forum in 1987, required the employees to attend Forum sessions "under direct or indirect threat of loss of employment," and the $525 fee for the program was deducted from their paychecks, according to the lawsuit, filed in December.
The Forum was formed by Werner Erhard, founder of the controversial estprogram that gained popularity in the 1970s. The program espouses the supremacy of man, a belief "which by its very essence denies the centrality of God and historical concepts at the heart of many established religions," according to the lawsuit.
The eight former employees are Presbyterian, Baptist, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Hindu and Jehovah's Witness.
Plaintiff Dong Shik Kim said Wednesday that he had to leave his job at the market because he was told to recruit as many cashiers as he could into The Forum.
"I am not interested in that type of program," said Mr. Kim, who was cashier supervisor when he left the market two years ago. "To say to the cashiers to join The Forum was against my conscience and against my religious beliefs."
Mr. Kim, a Presbyterian, said that because he was not interested in the program, he was ignored and treated like he was less than a supervisor.
Mr. Blazer "was not interested in talking with anybody who did not participate or was not interested in that program. I did not like the atmosphere," said Mr. Kim, who now works at a north Fulton County farmers market owned by Mr. Blazer's brother, Harry Blazer.
Attorneys for DeKalb Farmers Market, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, have denied that The Forum is a religion.
The plaintiffs alleged in the lawsuit, which sought injunctive relief, unspecified damages and back pay, that their right to religious freedom in the workplace had been violated under the guise of "management training." Training techniques and principles of The Forum were incorporated into the market's daily staff meetings, said the lawsuit.
Ms. Totenberg said she did not know whether Mr. Blazer or any employees are still involved in The Forum, but said she is certain that the market's alleged practices that led to the lawsuit have ceased.
"I trust that the litigation has stopped that once and for all," she said.