Church of Scientology and former member settle long lawsuit
The Church of Scientology and one of its former members settled a lawsuit Monday that she filed nearly a decade ago alleging she was forced to work long hours as a preteen and was coerced to have an abortion at 17.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney met privately with attorneys for the church and plaintiff Laura Ann DeCrescenzo, then announced the settlement in court. Trial was scheduled to begin Aug. 13.
John Blumberg, an attorney for DeCrescenzo, said terms of the deal are confidential. Attorneys for Scientology didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
The church was a defendant along with its Religious Technology Center. DeCrescenzo’s allegations included forced abortion, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices, and wage and hour violations.
Blumberg said he didn’t know why the defendants decided to settle, but actions by their lawyers in court indicated that they didn’t want the case to go trial.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys subpoenaed Scientology leader David Miscavige, but church attorneys sought to quash orders for him to appear, Blumberg said.
“Based on their actions in trying to prevent David Miscavige from testifying, it would lead one to the inescapable conclusion that preventing an order he testify was very important to them,” Blumberg said.
According to a sworn declaration by DeCrescenzo, she began volunteering to do church work at age 6 or 7 in Orange County. She said that at age 7, she was part of a Scientology group organized to picket the same courthouse where trial of her lawsuit would take place, according to City News Service.
She said the demonstration showed the church’s ability to “go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits” against the institution, whose followers include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
“I believed that if I took any action against the Church of Scientology — whether filing a lawsuit or even speaking negatively about the Church of Scientology — that I would be subjected to severe retribution, including significant financial penalties and loss of my family,” DeCrescenzo stated.
When DeCrescenzo was 12, she was recruited to join the organization’s elite Sea Org, which she said is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the religion worldwide.
DeCrescenzo alleged that she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and that two more hours were later added to her workday. DeCrescenzo says she remained with Sea Org until 2004, when she was 25.
She says she was told she could not leave Sea Org and was released from duty only after she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing bleach.
DeCrescenzo alleged she became pregnant in February 1996 and was persuaded by the church to have an abortion to show her allegiance to Sea Org and its long hours.
The case was previously dismissed by another judge, but a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the decision in June 2011 and sent it back to the judge to determine whether the church was permitted to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.
The trial was scheduled to be conducted in two phases, beginning with a non-jury trial before Mooney to determine whether DeCrescenzo acted reasonably in waiting so long to file her lawsuit. If he had ruled in her favor, a jury would have decided any liability and damages.
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