Friday, March 25, 2011
Believing in the company took extreme forms at Bath Fitter of Pittsburgh, according to a federal civil complaint filed Thursday by a former sales representative of the well-known remodeling firm.
Doctrines that were drilled into employees -- for a fee taken out of their commissions -- were explicitly spiritual, insisting that sales representatives open themselves to "Pure Spirit, Love, Total Acceptance, Oneness, Immortality, Truth, Intelligence and Total Tolerance," while shutting out "Fear, Judgment, Separation/Ego, Death, Belief, Insanity," former rep Jo A. Yochum's complaint quoted from training handbooks.
And if you resisted the program, as 54-year-old Ms. Yochum did, you risked being branded "an atheist" and denied sales leads, the complaint filed in U.S. District Court said.
Here's what Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has to say on the matter:
With respect to religion, Title VII prohibits:
treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits (disparate treatment);
subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate (e.g., relatives, friends, etc.);
denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – if an accommodation will not impose more than a de minimis cost or burden on business operations; and,
retaliating against an applicant or employee who has engaged in protected activity, including participation (e.g., filing an EEO charge or testifying as a witness in someone else’s EEO matter), or opposition to religious discrimination (e.g., complaining to human resources department about alleged religious discrimination).
Here's a bit more from the same site:
Religious harassment in violation of Title VII occurs when employees are: (1) required or coerced to abandon, alter, or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment (this type of “quid pro quo” harassment may also give rise to a disparate treatment or denial of accommodation claim in some circumstances); or (2) subjected to unwelcome statements or conduct that is based on religion and is so severe or pervasive that the individual being harassed reasonably finds the work environment to be hostile or abusive, and there is a basis for holding the employer liable.
Further along in the Post-Gazette's story, its noted that Ms. Yochum's federal complaint states she was required to participate in training with a firm called Partners Through People. This training was expensive, costing $90,000. Now I'm no expert, but I'm reasonably sure that the bill for job-required training, once you are an employee, is usually footed by your employer, however Ms. Yochum was required to pay for this training herself according to the complaint.
Now here is something interesting. The Post-Gazette identifies Sam Lucci as one of the owners of the local Bath Fitter franchise via FJW Investments Inc. Guess who is listed as the owner, founder, and CEO of Partners Through People? Sam J. Lucci III. Guess who is the Vice President of FWJ Investments? Sam J. Lucci III.
Now, for even more fun, lets look at the Parters Through People's "Testimonials" page. Here we find a testimonial from Frank Witkowski, President of FWJ Investments and locally, the public face of Bath Fitter.
"You owe it to yourself to experience this program. I ran a business for over 30 years, all the while feeling trapped in a big, ugly job. Partners Through People changed all that. I now know how to work on my business instead of in it. My hiring is better. My staff development is better. I won't allow a new employee to work for me without experiencing the program."
"I wont allow a new employee to work for me without experiencing the program." So, participation in this $90,000 program is a condition of employment at Bath Fitter. But there's more! Back to the complaint!
5. Defendant Z&G Enterprises, Inc. t/d/b/a Partners Through People, is a
Pennsylvania corporation with a registered office address of 535 Center Grange Road, Monaca, Pennsylvania 15061 and a registered principal place of business of 101 Pleasant Drive, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania 15001, with other locations in Allegheny County and surrounding areas. Z&G Enterprises is the registered owner of the Pennsylvania fictitious name Partners Through People, which maintains a registered principal place of business of 216 Pleasant Drive, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania 15001. Z&G Enterprises, Inc.
t/d/b/a Partners Through People purports to provide employee training programs to various employers, including FJW Investment, and their employees, including Yochum. Z&G Enterprises additionally trades and does business as Cabinet World, through which it provides cabinetry goods and services for kitchens, bathrooms and other household applications. Defendants Frank J. Witkowski and Samuel J. Lucci III founded and/or own and operate Z&G Enterprises.
HoHo!! So, Partners Through People is run through Z&G Enterprises which was founded by, and is owned in part by Frank Witkowski!! A third defendant, Maribeth A. Lucci is also listed as an officer with Partners Through People and FJW Investment.
If the allegations in the complaint are true, it looks like the entire operation is designed to funnel a portion of sales commissions back into the pockets of the owners through the mandatory training program.
...pursuant to the “Sales Trainee Agreement,” Yochum was required
to pay $90,000 for the purported sales training, which payment would be withheld as a deduction from her sales commissions otherwise payable to her by Bath Fitter. In the event Yochum’s employment with Bath Fitter should terminate before she achieved $3,000,000 in sales (which would generate withholding totaling $90,000), the “Sales Trainee Agreement” required Yochum to pay a “fee” equal to 3% of the shortfall in sales from the $3,000,000 requirement. (Thus, if Yochum failed to achieve any sales, she would owe the entire $90,000 “fee” as compensation for the purported sales training.)
17. During the course of her employment with Bath Fitter/Partners, Yochum
achieved and exceeded the $3,000,000 sales target, and therefore her required $90,000 “fee” was fully paid by way of deductions from her sales commissions. (Once she achieved the repayment of the training “fee” through her sales, however, the employer significantly reduced the sales leads it directed to her, redirecting such leads to newlyhired employees who still owed payment of the training “fee.”)
Anyone aside me have a problem with this? The complaint contains more disturbing allegations:
23. Even after Yochum had been employed for several years by Bath
Fitter/Partners, and consistently achieved high sales production, Defendants Witkowski, Sam Lucci and Marybeth Lucci all insisted that Yochum continue to endure “Break Out” sessions, that is, one-on-one religious indoctrination and brain-washing. When Yochum asked the reasons for the continuing training sessions, given her high sales figures and closing percentages, she was told that the requirement had nothing to do with her sales figures, but was necessary because she “did not have the right idea about God” and her “lack of trust in Him” would affect her “ability to sell” (notwithstanding her actualsuccessful sales performance).
24. When Yochum continued to object to the forced religious indoctrination,
Defendants told her that she would either need to resume the “Break Out” sessions or leave the company.
25. After Yochum’s employment was terminated, Defendant Sam Lucci stated
to other employees that he and Defendants Witkowski and Maribeth Lucci “could not work with” Yochum because she “was an atheist.”
Sure looks like discrimination to me! And what is wrong with people who cannot work with someone because their views on religion don't conform? Why should an employee be subject to this sort of on the job religious harassment? Shouldn't the only issue and consideration be job performance?
I liberally cut-and pasted from the court complaint, but feel free to read it yourself. I'm looking forward to how this one plays out.