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Critical Thinking Organization Likened to Cult

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (CN) - In a lurid lawsuit, a former employee claims the Marin County-based Foundation for Critical Thinking is a "cultlike" group whose married bosses tried to make him have sex with the wife, and fired him for refusing.

Enoch Hale sued The Foundation for Critical Thinking, Linda Elder and her husband Richard Paul, in Sonoma County Court.

Hale, a 40-year-old married man and father, claims he quit his job as a high school teacher to accept an offer to work as a "full-time Fellow" for the Foundation for Critical Thinking (FCT) in August 2004.

According to the complaint, the Foundation for Critical Thinking, based in Tomales, "trains educators how to analyze information in an 'objective 'fair-minded' manner, without allowing their own biases, prejudices and opinions to influence their objective analysis of an issue. It is a 'think tank' of sorts that promotes a casual work environment. Defendants Elder and Paul frequently hold meetings at both FCT offices and their personal residence, where they sit and lie on the floor amongst pillows. To encourage the free flow of ideas, defendants Elder and Paul often discuss uncomfortable topics, and encourage employees to rid themselves of social, including sexual, taboos. The cult-like unprofessional atmosphere present at FCT and nurtured by defendants Elder and Paul created a hostile work environment for FTC [sic] employees, including Hale."

About three years after he was hired, Hale claims, Elder and Paul began bringing up "inappropriate sexual topics" and asking him "about his sex life with his wife" during business meetings. He claims that Elder frequently asked him if he wanted her sexually.

Hale says the frank sex talk made him uncomfortable, but he put up with it because other employees were fired or forced to quit if they disagreed with Elder and Paul.

In October 2010, Hale claims, Elder and Paul graduated from discussing sex to encouraging him to have sex with Elder.

After calling Hale to a meeting, Paul "explained to Hale that he was concerned about defendant Elder, his younger wife by approximately 20 years, and wanted to ensure that her sexual urges could be satisfied," the complaint states. "Defendant Paul proposed that Hale should have sexual intercourse with Paul's wife, defendant Elder, while defendant Paul observed them. Hale immediately became uncomfortable and anxious, as he listened to defendant Paul, and worried about his ability to keep his job, if he declined. Hale politely declined defendant Paul's request."

The complaint continues: "On or about January 9, 2011, another similar meeting took place in the Tomales offices. Paul and Elder were laying on pillows and asked Hale to join them on the floor. Hale refused and said he would be more comfortable sitting on the couch which he did. Paul and Elder began questioning Hale's concept of 'intimacy.' Paul then suggested that the Hale [sic] have sex with Elder. Once again Hale denied the request. At the end of this meeting, defendant Paul proposed that they all have a group hug. Hale did not want to engage in a group hug and hesitated, but was urged by defendant Paul and Elder to participate.


"Throughout Hale's employment with FCT, defendant Elder also engaged in repeated inappropriate sexual conduct towards plaintiff and other FCT employees, on multiple occasions during the work day. Defendant Elder's regular office attire while Hale worked at FCT consisted of Spandex leggings and low-cut shirts. While Hale worked at his desk, defendant Elder would approach him and lean into him, so that her breast would touch Hale's shoulder or arm. Plaintiff would try to avoid this contact by moving his chair away from defendant Elder, but she would reposition herself so that she continued to touch him inappropriately. Standing next to Hale at his desk, defendant Elder would place her foot on Hale's desk, exposing her crotch near his face, and she often bent over Hale's desk exposing her cleavage."

Hale claims that Elder's "inappropriate sexual contact in the workplace" made him feel "extremely anxious in her presence," but he didn't report it because he needed the work to support his family.

He claims her unwanted sexual advances escalated to the point that she sent him personal emails every day in February 2012 asking him to have an affair with her and pressuring him to have sex with her.

"Although Hale had expressly refused to have an affair with her and refused to leave his family for her, defendant Elder fantasized about the romantic relationship that she desired to have with Hale," the complaint states.

Hale claims that, among other things, Elder emailed him "provocative photographs of herself to Hale's work e-mail address stating, 'I thought you might need them on your computer;" propositioned him three times at a workshop the Foundation held for educators; sent him an email that said "I am glad you are not standing right in front of me trying to overcome me with your virility ... I no longer intend to play second fiddle to anyone in terms of your affection ... you told me the other night that you need to stay in your situation and take care of your family ... I am hurt by the fact that ... it has been Allie [Hale's wife] mainly calling the shots and me getting what is left." (Ellipses and brackets in complaint.)

Less than an hour later, Hale claims, Elder followed that up with another email that said: "Or is it that you can have only one wife and that has to be Allie? ... I have no idea how to envision having sexual encounters with you but where there is a will there is a way. We both need that desperately. At least I do ..." (Ellipses in complaint.)

Less than half an hour after that email, Hale claims, Elder sent him another one: "I want our love, yours and mine to make us happy. I want it to be super erotic in energy. I want to tell you all kinds of things I feel about you. You can't imagine how I fantasize about you now ... Let me know if you want to try to find a way to new love." (Ellipsis in complaint.)

All these emails were sent on the night of Feb. 19, 2012, according to the complaint.

Five days later, he claims, also at night, Elder sent him "an email noting that Hale had not responded to any of her emails in the past week, threatening retaliation, and foreshadowing Hale's termination stating, 'How can we work so closely together and suppress, potentially for the rest of our lives, the erotic feelings we have for one another. I don't know whether this can work with us, but something tells me we are heading for I know not what if we run from this.'"

When Hale continued to refuse Elder's advances, he says, she retaliated by criticizing his job performance, denying his request for a raise, and ultimately firing him without notice in October 2012.

Hale claims the sexual harassment and firing made him suffer "humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and discomfort."

He seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages for sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and wrongful termination. He also wants reimbursement for medical and mental health expenses.

He is represented by Sandra Wickland of Healdsburg and Desiree Cox of Santa Rosa.

The defendant group describes itself on the website, topped by the logo of the Foundation for Critical Thinking: "The Center for Critical Thinking was established in 1980 (with the first International Conference on Critical Thinking) by Dr. Richard Paul, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, at Sonoma State University. Dr. Paul is considered one of the founders of modern critical thinking and is internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of critical thinking, for advancing and further developing a substantive concept of critical thinking that began with Socrates more than 2500 years ago. The Center for Critical Thinking is affiliated with Sonoma State University in northern California. The Foundation for Critical Thinking was established in 1990 to support and supervise the work of the Center for Critical Thinking.

"Our work through the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking is internationally recognized for advancing the concept of fair-minded critical thinking within education and society. ... We reach out to educators at all levels, in all subjects and disciplines, and develop curriculum materials to achieve this end. We also develop critical thinking books and guides for anyone interested in developing their reasoning abilities. Moreover, we sponsor conferences, academies, seminars and workshops in critical thinking. Tens of thousands of educators, government officials, business leaders, home study parents, graduate students (and others) have attended our conferences and workshops since our inception."

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