Church of Scientology: The Headley Lawsuits

Published June 13, 2010


Former Scientologists Claire and Marc Headley are suing the Church of Scientology in separate actions in federal court in Los Angeles.

Marc Headley, 37, alleges he was the victim of unfair business practices, labor law violations and forced labor, or human trafficking, during his 15 years in the church's Sea Organization.

Claire Headley, 35, alleges the church forced her to have two abortions during her 13 years in the Sea Org. She also claims working conditions at the church's international management base near Hemet, Calif., constituted human trafficking.

Church lawyers have fought both actions aggressively, deposing the Headleys and other former Sea Org members and filing thousands of pages of motions, memoranda and arguments.

Filed in January 2009, the cases are scheduled for trial in January 2011. The church won a key round in April when U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fisher ruled that Claire Headley, employed by a religious institution, was a ''minister'' covered by the "ministerial exemption,'' not subject to wage and hour laws.

Church lawyers are using that ruling to argue that both Headley lawsuits should be dismissed.

The church says Marc Headley's work also qualifies for the ministerial exemption, voiding his labor law claims.

Human trafficking laws, the church argues, cannot be applied to the "employment relationship between a church and its ministers.''

The church says the Headleys were not held against their will. They lived in apartments and a house off the base property, had cell phones, visited relatives, went shopping, took trips.

The church's motion to dismiss Claire Headley's case said she had her abortions at a young age "because she did not want to lose her status as a Sea Org member.'' The church says the Sea Org policy that requires its members not have children is protected by the First Amendment.

The Headleys, married 17 years, counter that the Sea Org controlled them with psychological coercions, including threats of punishment.

A hearing on the church's motions to dismiss both cases is set for July 26.