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Fired Worker Doubts That God Did It

NEWARK (CN) - A furniture store manager who "spoke in tongues," and doubted that a worker was a "true Christian" fired her after learning she was a lesbian, and said God had told her to do it, the fired worker claims in court.

Isabel Perez sued Factory Direct of Secaucus dba Ashley Furniture HomeStore, Ashley CEO Eugene Chrinian and Ashley's director of people services and development Kathy Martin, in Federal Court.

Perez claims that both Chrinian and Martin grilled her about her marital status and religious views in separate employment interviews.

"During plaintiff's interview with Martin, Martin made a number of derogatory racial comments. For example, Martin referred to African-Americans as 'Brownies' and Caucasians as 'Creamies.' Martin explained that she could make these comments because she was of mixed descent," according to the complaint.

"During her interview with Martin, Martin also advised plaintiff that Chrinian was a Christian and asked plaintiff whether she was. Plaintiff responded that she was, and Martin then asked plaintiff a number of questions about being a minister because plaintiff had listed on her resume that she was a member of the National Association of Christian Ministers.

"During the interview, Martin also advised plaintiff that Chrinian adhered to the teachings of the C12 Group - a group of Christian business owners that advocates the application of biblical principals to business management.

"During plaintiff's interview with Chrinian, Chrinian questioned plaintiff about her marital status - which plaintiff attempted to deflect because she did not believe it was an appropriate question for an employment interview and because she did not want to disclose her sexual orientation at this point.

"Chrinian also questioned plaintiff about being a minister and asked if plaintiff was a Christian. When she responded that she was, Chrinian asked if she was a 'real Christian,' to which plaintiff responded that she was."

Perez was offered the job, but four days before her starting date, Martin asked her to come to her office for a meeting.

"At the start of this meeting, Martin took hold of plaintiff's hands and began to pray to God to ask for guidance in addressing the particular work situation that they were set to discuss," the complaint states.

"During this same meeting, Martin disclosed the fact that she was frequently possessed by Jesus and would sometimes speak in tongues without warning. At this meeting, Martin said that she 'spoke to God' and that she was 'sure [they] would make a balanced team.

"During this meeting, Martin made a number of derogatory remarks about homosexuals, stating that 'lesbos and gays would be judged' and that she follows the 'word of Leviticus' - which purportedly condemns homosexuality - and that 'there are many who call themselves true Christians, but they don't know what that means." (Brackets in complaint.)

On her first day of work, Perez claims in the complaint, she heard Martin refer to an employee as "nigga."

When she asked Martin not to use that language in the workplace, Martin told her, "'Girl, please. They're different. It was nigga, not [the n-word].' Martin then advised plaintiff that she needed to be more understanding of the company's 'culture,'" according to the complaint. (Brackets in complaint.)

Two other human resources employees told Perez "that Martin often directed derogatory and discriminatory comments to them, including referring to them as 'nigga' (as well as the n-word), 'bitch,' 'heifer,' 'ghetto,' 'lesbo' and 'fag,' among others," the complaint states.

Perez says she continued to object to this. During the same time, she claims, Martin began to lay her hands on Perez, "which she explained was so that God could speak to plaintiff through Martin."

Perez says that though she tried to keep her sexual orientation private, "it was well known among plaintiff's co-workers that she was a lesbian and was married to a woman. In fact, plaintiff disclosed her sexual orientation to two of her co-workers when they questioned her about her marital status. Upon information and belief, both Chrinian and Martin were aware of plaintiff's sexual orientation."

That led to her firing, Perez says.

"On October 5, 2012, Martin and plaintiff were walking in the parking lot and approached plaintiff's car," the complaint states. "Martin then questioned plaintiff about a decal that she had on her car. The decal was for the Human Rights Campaign - the nation's largest civil rights organization dedicated to achieving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

"Plaintiff explained to Martin that the decal on her car was the 'equality symbol.' Martin then asked plaintiff whether it was for 'the gays' and then proceed to tell plaintiff that she was not sure that she made the right decision about hiring plaintiff because she did not fit the 'culture' at the company. She then explained that she was going to 'speak to God' about plaintiff's continued employment with Ashley.

"The next business day, Monday, October 8, 2012, plaintiff was called into a meeting with Martin and Alfred Nunez (sales manager) where Martin told plaintiff that she had prayed about it and that God had spoken to her and told her that she needed to let plaintiff go. Martin continued: 'You just don't fit our culture. ... I need someone in your position that can embody our mission statement. Your beliefs just don't fit.' Martin stressed to plaintiff that the decision was not related to her work performance, telling plaintiff: 'We all know you are very capable and can easily manage the entire department.'"

Perez says Martin never explained to her she meant by the company's culture or mission statement.

But, Perez says, "the company's website indicates that it proudly supports FamilyLife, an organization whose mission is to 'effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.' While this mission is laudable on its face, in practice it promotes discrimination against homosexuals as the founder of FamilyLife has warned against the 'radical homosexual element in our culture.'"

Perez seeks punitive damages for retaliation and discrimination, declaratory judgment that Ashley's policy is illegal, and an injunction to stop it.

She is represented by Gregory Filosa with The Ottinger Firm, in New York City.

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