Human Rights Worker 'Insufficiently Religious'
BROOKLYN (CN) - After spending five years in Chinese prisons for her human rights work, a woman claims in Federal Court, she continued her work in the United States, until her new bosses fired her for being "insufficiently religious" and for refusing to pray with her bosses every day.
Jing Zhang and Women's Rights in China sued Jenzabar Inc., The Jenzabar Foundation, All Girls Allowed and their founder and Jing's former boss, Ling Chai.
Zhang, a journalist, claims she "has devoted her life to freedom, democracy and human rights," and was imprisoned by the government of China "for five years for her work promoting freedom and democracy."
She came to the United States in 1997, where she founded the nonprofit Women's Rights in China, to continue advocating for human rights.
Zhang claims Ling Chai hired her as Jenzabar's director of China and Overseas Communities after seeing her testify before a U.S. Congress Human Rights Commission about China's one-child policy.
Zhang claims she developed four successful programs with Chai that focused on preventing forced abortions, educating abandoned female orphans and reuniting trafficked children with their families.
The programs included a Baby Shower Gift Program "that provided financial assistance to families that have baby girls in the countryside of China," according to the complaint. She claims her programs "became a success," and "what started with a few dozen families eventually grew to thousands."
But according to the complaint: "Unfortunately, defendant Chai, who professes to be a devout Christian, repeatedly expressed concern to plaintiff Zhang that she was insufficiently religious and ultimately required as a condition of her employment that plaintiff Zhang participate in daily prayers and practice her faith as preferred by defendant Chai.
"Although plaintiff Zhang made numerous efforts to work with defendants despite the unlawful and unreasonable requests for her to change her religious practices, plaintiff Zhang ultimately made it clear that she would not change her religious believe in order to satisfy defendants' preferences. As a result, defendants terminated plaintiff Zhang's employment. In addition, defendant terminated all funding support to plaintiff WRIC, which required the shutdown of its operations in China."
Zhang adds: "Defendants' actions in forcing plaintiff Zhang to choose between her job and practicing her religious beliefs as she believed appropriate constitute and egregious violation of the anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions of the New York City Human Rights Law."
Before she was fired, Zhang says, Chai told her "that everyone in the New York office, including plaintiff Zhang, would be required to set aside one hour each week for Bible study, which included prayer, prayer requests and testimonials."
The complaint continues: "Further, in or about the beginning of 2011, defendant Chai informed plaintiff Zhang that the New York Office, including plaintiff Zhang, was required to participate in Bible stuffy while on daily conference calls with defendant Chai and the Boston office. Generally, these calls lasted approximately two hours and started with opening prayers, followed by testimonials, prayer requests, and Bible study."
Zhang says "there was a short discussion about work issues following the prayers," but that "the Bible study conflicted with her work because that was the time she generally talked to others in China."
She claims Chai then began insisting that when she distributed contributions to China, "that they use the programs to spread the Gospel and teach Christianity and wanted to insert a religious picture or verse from the Bible in each envelope despite the fact that this was against the law in China."
After two mandatory company "retreats," which were devoted to the Bible, and not to work, Zhang says, she declined to attend a third retreat, so she could "concentrate on her work."
She say Chai then "informed plaintiff that she was not a serious Christian who is close to God and that she needed to talk to a pastor and start practicing her religion more devoutly if she wanted to continue working for defendants."
Zhang claims Chai presented her with an agreement stating that "if she did not agree to practice her religion as specified by defendants, she would be terminated." Zhang says she refused and was fired.
She seeks damages for employment discrimination, retaliation and human rights violations.
She is represented by Daniel Alterman with Alterman & Boop.