Baxter v. Miscavige

Baxter v. Miscavige

Public Justice is co-counsel in this case in U.S. District Court in Florida on behalf of three former Scientology members who brought claims for human trafficking and forced labor against the Church of Scientology, various other Scientology entities, and David Miscavige, the head of Scientology.  The Plaintiffs claim that, as young children, they were taken from their parents, prevented from attending any accredited school, and forced to work for Scientology for long hours in punishing conditions as part of its “Cadet Org” and “Sea Org” programs. Plaintiffs were eventually transported to work aboard the “Freewinds” cruise ship, where they were isolated and their passports confiscated. Plaintiffs contend that they experienced systematic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse aboard the Freewinds and in Scientology labor camps in Florida and Australia. They allege that Scientology indebted them and threatened them, making it financially, physically, and psychologically impossible for them to leave.

As part of the scheme to control Plaintiffs, they were ordered under threat of punishment to sign complicated legal documents that they were not permitted to read or review. And when they were on the verge of obtaining their freedom from Scientology, they were directed to sign more documents before they would be permitted to leave or have their passports returned. These documents contained oppressive and one-sided confidentiality provisions and releases of virtually all their legal rights, including their right to have their case heard in court. Instead, the agreements provided that all disputes would be decided in a secretive religious arbitration, where their cases would be decided by Scientologists according to Scientology laws and under procedures made up by Scientology.

After Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) in federal court in Florida, Scientology moved to compel Plaintiffs into religious arbitration instead. Public Justice took the lead in briefing the arbitration issues, arguing that, first, Plaintiffs never agreed to arbitration in the first place because they were forced to sign the agreements under duress and they were not given an opportunity to read them or understand what they said; second, forcing Plaintiffs into a religious arbitration under Scientology law would prevent them from vindicating their rights under the TVPRA; third, that forcing them into religious arbitration would violate their First Amendment right to leave their religion; and fourth, that the agreements were “unconscionable” both because of the coercive circumstances in which they were signed and their one-sided terms.

The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

  • Shelby Leighton, Anita Yandle, Matt Clifford
  • Neil Glazer, Joseph C. Kohn, Zahra R. Dean, Aarthi Manohar, and Elias Kohn, Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C.; Gregory P. Hansel, Shana M. Solomon, Elizabeth F. Quinby, Preti Flaherty Believeau & Pachios, Chartered LLP; Agnieszka Fryszman, Brendan Schneiderman, Theodore Leopold, Manuel J. Dominguez, Diana Martin, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC; Warren A. Zimmerman, P.A.

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