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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Christian Network Accused of Racial Bias

LOS ANGELES (CN) - An African-American minster claims Trinity Broadcasting Network harassed him after he published a book on religion and fired him when he complained. The Ethiopian-born minister claims the harassment "included comments from his supervisors regarding his 'kinky hair' and telling him to 'go back to Africa where his family is starving.'"

Asfaw Berhane says Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian network, hired him in early 2003 for its prayer department, and that he was a "capable and exemplary" minister.

According to his Superior Court complaint: "Berhane was harassed and discriminated against almost immediately after beginning his employment with TBN, but things became more intense in or around August 2008 when Berhane published a book about religion. TBN immediately retaliated and discriminated against him and suspended him for two weeks. Before Berhane published the book, he received permission from the Vice President of TBN. In addition to being suspended, Berhane incurred more than $16,000 in fees to re-edit his book."

Berhane's attorney Michael Justice told Courthouse News: "My client filed suit in response to the devastation of having put so much work into the Trinity Church - not only his time and effort but a lot of himself. To have that taken away from him really hurt him, emotionally, economically and in every way."

The title of Berhane's book is not mentioned in the complaint. But Amazon.com lists the book, "Heaven Is Empty, Hell Is Full," with Berhane as the author.

Berhane, 57, also sued Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, and his immediate supervisor, Amor Steffan.

Steffan is accused, along with his nonparty supervisor Seffan Cisneros, of "severely harassing" him.

The complaint states: "Berhane is originally from Ethiopia, he believes in the Jewish faith and Jesus Christ.

"The retaliation and discrimination that Berhane experienced included comments from his supervisors regarding his 'kinky hair' and telling him to 'go back to Africa where his family is starving.' On one occasion his manager pulled his hair and told him that she 'prayed the Lord would shave his kinky hair.'

"Berhane was also a target of harassment based on his religion. Steffan told Berhane and a Jewish co-worker that he did not like it when they spoke Hebrew at work. Steffan also told Berhane that 'Jews are in the Old Testament and we are in the New Testament.'

"On one occasion Berhane's manager pulled him into his office and told him that he could not wear the Star of David to work because 'TBN is not a synagogue.' Berhane also heard his manager tell his Jewish co-worker that she could not wear anything representing Judaism to work either.

"As a direct result of his race and religion Berhane was retaliated against, and eventually terminated October 28, 2010."

Berhane says that when the harassment "became too much to bear" he complained to his bosses, who failed to investigate.

"Soon after Berhane made the formal complaint the harassment worsened. He was completely isolated and ignored within his department. The woman to whom he gave the complaint acknowledged that she received it but would not speak to him at all afterward. Berhane's complaint was never investigated. On October 28, 2010 Berhane was terminated from his position with TBN."

On the Amazon website, "Heaven Is Empty, Hell Is Full" is described as a book in which Berhane "shares his supernatural experiences, including visitations from Jesus and angelic beings, that gave him a revelation into heaven and hell."

He seeks damages for racial discrimination, retaliation, religious discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

TBN did not respond to a request for comment.

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