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
"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
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
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