The Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige are the targets of a lawsuit by a former member of the church, who alleges child abuse, human trafficking and intimidation.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles. In court documents, the defendant was called Jane Doe to protect her identity.
According to the lawsuit, Doe was born to Scientologist parents in 1979 and lived from ages 6-12 at the spiritual headquarters of the church in Clearwater.
She claims she was forced to work from 8 a.m. to midnight and only instructed on Scientologist teachings.
Doe claimed at age 10, she was subjected to a ritual called "bullbaiting," where she says she had to sit in a chair while obscene things were shouted at her. According to the lawsuit, she was expected to show no reaction; if she did, she claims the practice would start over.
The lawsuit says when she was 15, Doe was lured to Los Angeles with promises of fair pay and a simple job. Instead, she claims she was forced to work long hours for little pay.
She became a member of the Sea Org, which the suit describes as a military-like "sub-organization for Scientology's most dedicated members." The suit claims members sign a "billion-year contract" dedicating their lives to the church and work an average of 100 hours a week for $46.
Doe said she started working as Miscavige's steward seven days a week and became close to his wife, Shelly.
Miscavige, though, had a falling out with his wife in 2005, Doe said. That led to Doe being sent to "the hole," a pair of double-wide mobile homes where those accused of ethics violations were kept under strict surveillance, the lawsuit alleges.
She claims she was kept there for three months, then sentenced to three months of hard labor.
Doe claims she witnessed a crying Shelly Miscavige being dragged into a car. Shelly Miscavige has not been seen or heard publicly since, according to the lawsuit.
Doe said she tried to escape the church in 2016 but came back because of her family connections. She finally left for good in 2017 and now works with actress Leah Remini, who has become an outspoken critic of Scientology.
Doe's story became part of an episode of Remini's TV series "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," which told the story of defected church members.
The suit claims the church set up a hate website -- leahreminiaftermath.com -- that targeted Doe and the others featured on the show. The website contains what the suit calls "false, defamatory and inflammatory information about Jane Doe, all under the (Church of Scientology) copyright."
The suit claimed similar articles and videos about Doe appeared on the official website of Freedom Magazine, a Scientology-run publication.
The lawsuit seeks damages for multiple complaints, including false imprisonment; kidnapping; stalking; libel; slander; invasion of privacy; intentional infliction of emotional distress; human trafficking; failure to pay minimum wage; exceeding maximum work hours and overtime, failure to provide days of rest and meal periods; violation of California labor codes; fraudulent inducement of employment; negligent misrepresentation; and negligence.
“Scientology for decades has sought to quash dissention, cover up its long history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of its members, including its most vulnerable members, its children, and weaponize its doctrine against those who escape and find the courage to speak up," said Attorney Brian Kent of Laffey, Bucci & Kent, LLP, which filed the lawsuit. "This is just the beginning and we are not going to stop until they do.”
In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology said the lawsuit was filled with nothing more than unfounded allegations. The spokesperson said Jane Doe's complaint was littered with "anti-religious slurs culled from the tabloids" and accusations that have already been disproven in courts.
"We are confident the lawsuit will fail," the Church of Scientology wrote in an email. "Federal courts have already determined that service in the Church of Scientology’s religious order is voluntary and protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, the evidence will establish that while serving the Church, Plaintiff came and went freely, traveled the world, and lived in comfortable surroundings. The Church will vigorously defend itself against these unfounded allegations."
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