ALBANY, Ore. (KATU) – Ryan Coleman, a house painter in Albany, Oregon, is suing his former boss for $800,000, saying he was fired for not attending Bible study classes.
“Knowing that I’m a felon and it’s gonna be harder to find a job, I felt obligated to attend or I’d lose my job. And I was,” Coleman told KATU on Thursday.
The painter’s ex-employer, Joel Dahl, denies firing Coleman for not going to Bible study and said he’s still working on a response to the lawsuit.
Dahl, who owns Dahled Up Construction, Inc., said he pays workers to attend Bible study classes. The business owner is an ex-convict and a recovering addict who says he likes giving people like himself a second chance.
The lawsuit, however, says he overstepped his bounds and broke the law.
Coleman says he’s half white and half Native American, with Blackfoot and Cherokee heritage.
“The God that I pray to is the creator,” Coleman explained. “He’s similar to a Christian God.”
But not the same.
Last year, Coleman said he was out of prison, staying sober and looking for a job.
He said he was hired by Dahl.
“Closer to Halloween, sometime after being hired, he had mentioned to the company that he’s gonna start doing a Bible study every week,” Coleman told a KATU reporter.
The hour-long classes are held at the Helping Hands homeless shelter on Southeast Ninth Avenue in Albany.
“I went every week, reluctantly and very uncomfortable, but I attended. I protested every week but I made it,” Coleman said. “It wasn’t until April of this year where I finally just took a stand. I said, “Hey, Joel, I won’t be at Bible study this week.’ And he goes, ‘Ryan, we’ve gone over this. It’s mandatory. I told you that you need to be there. This is how I run my company. If you’re not gonna show up to Bible study, I’m gonna have to replace you.’ I didn’t go to Bible study that Tuesday and I was fired.”
Coleman and his lawyer at HKM Employment Attorneys in Portland say that’s illegal.
“It’s religious discrimination,” Coleman said. “He wrongfully terminated me because of my religious beliefs.”
Dahl answered questions in front of some of his 15 employees outside his home. They each wore shirts decorated with the company’s logo on one side and a cross on the other.
He said Coleman’s account is not accurate.
“I’ve obtained a lawyer,” Dahl told a KATU reporter when asked about the lawsuit’s claims. “I don’t know really what to say to it. I don’t agree to everything that’s been said. We’ll be responding to that … What Ryan Coleman believes is his business. I’ve never tried to say you need to believe in God or you have to pray to God.”
When asked if Coleman was required to go to Bible study as part of his job, Dahl said, “That’s something that we’re gonna have to respond to in court.”
He said Dahl was not fired for declining to attend Bible study and that the real reason for his dismissal will be brought up in court.
Dahl has around 30 days to file an official response. His lawyer, Kent Hickam, said he expects this lawsuit to go to trial.