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November - December 2000 The Sabbath Sentinel

Christian Gets Another Shot in Suit Against Car Dealer

by Susan Borreson

Following is an article from the January 31, 2000 issue of Texas Lawyer. Since the article contains a ruling that affects the religious freedom of a citizen, we felt it important to share this information with all Sabbath keepers. Our thanks go to Texas Lawyer for publishing the details of this case.

Texas' 14th Court of Appeals in a novel ruling found in favor of a woman who claimed a Houston car dealership refused to hire her after she objected to materials used in a training seminar, saying they conflicted with her religious beliefs. Peter Costea, who represents Bobbie Grant, says The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties group that paid the court costs of the sexual harassment suit filed by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton, paid for the expenses of the appeal. The 14th Court sided with Grant, reversing a no-evidence summary judgment in favor of Houston car dealership Joe Myers Toyota.

On Jan. 20, a three-judge panel in "Bobbie Grant v. Joe Myers Toyota Inc." remanded Grant's suit to 127th District Judge Sharolyn Wood, saying that Grant presented more than a scintilla of proof that the dealership refused to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The ruling is the first time a Texas court has addressed substantive issues of religious discrimination under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, says Costea.

"The most important point the court made in this appeal, in the opinion, was really courts have limited jurisdiction to examine, review or determine what somebody's religious views are," says Costea, a Houston solo.

"The Supreme Court has emphasized this over and over again, and I was pleased a Texas court of appeals has emphasized that point as well," he says.

Grant, an evangelical Christian, was an office worker who had no sales training or experience when she applied for a clerical job at the dealership in 1997. No clerical positions were available, and dealership employees told her there were openings in sales, but training or experience was mandatory, the court wrote.

Grant alleges the employees gave her the name of Automotive Sales Training Inc., a group that provides a course taught by Dick Smouse, an ordained minister, who required students to read Og Mandino's book "The Greatest Salesman in the World," the opinion noted.

The book is a fictional tale set in New Testament times and centers around the birth of Christ. The book recounts how a Middle Eastern merchant becomes wealthy after being given 10 scrolls containing the secrets of life and the principles of how to become a good salesman. The merchant meets Paul, an apostle of Christ, who incorporates the teachings of the scrolls and becomes "the greatest salesman in the world," according to the opinion.

After reading the first scroll, Grant objected to certain passages, which Smouse required the students to memorize and recite aloud three times a day, the opinion said.

For instance, Grant says a passage that stated "the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success," did not reconcile with her Christian beliefs.

After telling the instructor that she could not read the rest of the book because it offended her religious beliefs, he dismissed her from the class, Grant alleges.

Grant alleges she then told a dealership official that she was a Christian and that the book "was against everything she believed as a Christian."

According to the opinion, Grant contends the official told her she would have to read the book if she wanted to take the class and must take the class to be hired. Grant did not return to the class and was not hired.

Jill Arntz, of Houston's Burck, Lapidus & Lanza, who represents the dealership, says dealership officials never required Grant to attend the seminar, but simply told her she would not be hired without sales training or experience. "No one is," Arntz says.

The dealership had no business relationship with Smouse, and did not control or have any say-so in the contents of the course, Arntz says. The dealership, which does not provide on-the-job training, simply agreed to pass out Smouse's brochures, she says.

"He [Smouse] has a similar relationship with several dealerships in this city besides us, and so there's no evidence tying that requirement to read that book to my company," Arntz says.

Arntz also alleges that Grant never articulated how the course offended her religious beliefs, saying only that she was a Christian. Grant made no effort to get other training or experience, Arntz maintains.

"It wasn't our obligation to find her training," Arntz says. "But the court is basically telling us, you need to find her someplace where she can get training that comports with her religious beliefs. But we wouldn't do that for anybody." Arntz says her client has not yet decided whether to appeal.

But Chief Justice Paul Murphy, writing for the majority, said Grant provided more than a scintilla of evidence that Grant held a bona fide religious belief, as required by law.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Harvey Hudson said the court is not required to determine whether a plaintiff's religious beliefs fit within the accepted parameters of a particular religious faith. Rather, the test is whether the religious belief is truly a deeply held conviction, he wrote.

"'New age' training programs have been highly controversial for more than a decade," Hudson wrote. "It should have been anticipated that at least some persons would not be able to participate in the [t]raining class due to bona fide religious convictions, yet no reasonable accommodation was planned, made or offered by Joe Myers Toyota."


Novemeber - December 2000 The Sabbath Sentinel