A former member of the Church of Scientology filed suit against the organization in Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this week, citing alleged abuse, human trafficking, and forced labor within the organization. The suit is seeking general and compensatory damages, as well as recovery of unpaid wages, from the church, its leader David Miscavige, and 25 other unnamed correspondents.
Identified only as Jane Doe, the woman filing suit against the church says that she grew up inside the Church of Scientology and was appointed as a “steward” to Miscavige when she was 15. The lawsuit claims that as a child, Jane Doe was subject to “bullbaiting,” a practice within the church in which members are allegedly instructed not to have a visible reaction to abusive or offensive language, which led to her being berated with verbal abuse and sexually explicit language from adults.
The complaint states that Jane Doe later joined the Sea Organization, a.k.a. Sea Org, operating out of the organization’s Gold Base in San Jacinto, California. She alleges that she was later removed from her post and instructed to go into the “hole,” which has been referred to as a prison camp or an isolation center for those accused of violating major Scientology tenets. The lawsuit alleges that Jane Doe was only sent to the hole because her proximity to Micavige meant that she knew too much about his personal marital problems with his wife Shelly, who has not been seen in public since 2007.
The lawsuit also alleges that Jane Doe spent a year in the hole before she was directed to relocate to Los Angeles to work on publicity for the church, where she escaped in late 2016. She then went to work for actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has since left the church and become one of its most vocal critics on her documentary series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. It was after she appeared on the show, the lawsuit alleges, that the Church of Scientology embarked on a campaign to defame her, at one point operating a website intended to discredit her and smear her reputation.
“These publications were disseminated by Defendants with the intent to harass, intimidate, embarrass, humiliate, destroy and alarm Jane Doe in all aspects of her personal and professional life,” the suit states.
Established in 1952 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is known for its controversial beliefs and practices, such as its stance against psychiatry and its aggressively litigious approach to criticism from church outsiders. It is also well known for its association with many A-list Hollywood actors, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
While the Church of Scientology has long battled allegations of abuse, with former members claiming that they were subjected to harsh physical labor and brutal intimidation tactics from church leaders, the lawsuit marks the first attempt to hold the Church legally accountable in the #MeToo era, and is only the first in a series of suits that will be filed against the church, Marci Hamilton, one of the lawyers representing Jane Doe in the suit, told the Huffington Post.
“We learned through the Catholic Church cases and then with the development of the Me Too era that organizations that are held accountable in the courts end up being forced to do the right thing,” Hamilton said. “It’s not enough for people to tell their stories and simply come forward. You have to subject them to the legal system.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone in response to the lawsuit, the Church of Scientology said, “The lawsuit comprises nothing more than unfounded allegations as to all defendants…. We are confident the lawsuit will fail. Federal courts have already determined that service in the Church of Scientology’s religious order is voluntary and protected by the First Amendment,” the church’s statement read. “Moreover, the evidence will establish that while serving the Church, [the plaintiff] came and went freely, traveled the world, and lived in comfortable surroundings.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Church of Scientology to Rolling Stone.