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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Woman Decries Bias at Mormon-Led Company

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - The nation's largest shooting range equipment maker discriminated against an employee because she's not Mormon, and the CEO told her "women should not get educations, unless it was to make them better mothers," she claims in court.

Tara Johnson sued Action Target in Federal Court. The company is the only named defendant.

Johnson claims two supervisors and CEO Tom Wright discriminated against her for nearly three years. She also claims that after her firing with no notice, the company paid her male successor commission on $500,000 in sales that she had earned.

Action Target claims on its website to be the nation's largest manufacturer of shooting range equipment. Its projects include the FBI Academy and Los Angeles Police Department training center.

Action Target hired Johnson in 2007 in customer service, she says in her 8-page complaint.

"On her first day of work, Johnson's supervisor asked her if she was a member of The Church of [Jesus Christ of] Latter-day Saints.

"When she responded that she was not, he informed her that the company did not allow employees to come to work drunk or to drink alcohol at work," the complaint states.

The company "employed a very small percentage of female employees," Johnson says, and she "was treated differently than her male coworkers."

Johnson says she asked her supervisors if she could travel to foreign and domestic Action Target installations "to obtain product knowledge and training," to which one supervisor, Ernest John, said, "it would not make good business sense to send a woman into the field."

"John explained that customers might not be comfortable with a woman representative, and it would make travel more expensive for the company because she would need her own hotel room," the complaint states.

Johnson claims her performance with the company "was excellent," so much so that she received its "On the Ball Award."

"Nonetheless, after several months, Action Target hired a male employee, whom Johnson was expected to train, at a higher salary rate than her," the complaint states.

Johnson eventually moved from customer service to sales, managing the company's northwest territory. But she received similar treatment from Wright.

"When she was promoted, Tom Wright, Action Target's CEO, told Johnson when she got married, the company would bring her back to Utah so she could focus on having a family because that was 'what you are supposed to do.'

"Mr. Wright said openly that women should not get educations, unless it was to make them better mothers.

"This attitude towards women by Mr. Wright and other men in the company resulted in a pattern and practice of discrimination against the female employees, in the form of lower pay, less training opportunities, limited 'suitable' positions, and less mobility within the company," the complaint states.

The discrimination didn't stop there, Johnson says.

In her new position, Johnson's photo never appeared on the company's website "like all the male representatives, [and] she was never given a company cell phone," she says. "She was also not provided with a mentor as the male representatives were; she was told this was because it 'would not look right' for a man to travel with her."

Johnson was not given an office at an Action Target facility in Provo, she says, and she "was forced to work in a space intended to be used by visiting customers or consultants, which had no phone, computer, or Internet service."

She was also "made the butt of many office jokes by other sales representatives," she says.

Johnson moved into an international sales position in August 2010, to replace a "salesman who had made numerous mistakes that cost the company significant profits," she says. "Her predecessor was not terminated, but was moved to another position within the company."

Action Target fired her "without warning," in October 2010.

"When she was moved to the international position, the vice president of sales, Randy Graham, informed her that she was still responsible for the northwest territory. It was impossible, however, for Johnson to successfully do two full-time jobs," the complaint states.

"In her entire tenure with Action Target, Johnson was never given any performance review, discipline, goals to achieve, or criticism of any kind.

"Nonetheless, on Oct. 21, 2010, Johnson was terminated without warning. The explanation she was given was that she was 'a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.'"

The company also took money she had earned and handed it to her male successor, Johnson claims: "Action Target's practice was to pay sales representatives commissions they earned on sales they made even after they left the company. Johnson, however, was not paid the commissions she earned on three substantial sales worth a total of nearly $500,000 prior to her transfer from the Northwest territory. Instead, her male successor in the Northwest territory was told that he would be given the commissions that she had earned.

"After she was terminated, Johnson learned that Action Target solicited negative comments from potential customers to supports its termination of her.

"Action Target hired a former male employee, who had been listed as 'unrehireable' due to poor performance, to replace her."

Johnson, an Alaska resident, seeks back pay, reinstatement or front pay, compensatory and consequential damages and punitive damages for religious and gender discrimination.

She is represented by April Hollingsworth.

The complaint was filed Thursday, 4 days after Latter-day Saints women organized a "Wear Pants to Church" day. Although not prohibited, Mormon women are discouraged from wearing pants to church. Organizers of the event told The New York Times that it was the biggest-ever demonstration for women's rights in Mormon church history.

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