ALBANY, Ore. -- A painter in Albany is suing his former boss for $800,000, after he said he was fired for refusing to go to bible study. His employer said that's not the case.
Ryan Coleman said he started working at Dahled Up Construction last October. He said he was struggling to find work when released from prison when Joe Dahl, Owner of Dahled Up Construction, hired him as a painter.
"I'll always be grateful for Joel for doing that for me," said Coleman. He said Dahled Up Construction often gives people second chances; both Coleman and Dahl said they have a criminal past.
He said within a few weeks, Dahl started requiring employees to attend an hour-long bible study once a week.
Being Native American, he said he practices a different religion from Dahl.
"If I had known it was something mandatory from the beginning, I never would have began working for him," said Coleman.
Coleman said he doesn't go anywhere without this medicine bag: "When I pray to the Creator this is what I hold in my hand, like a Christian would a cross."
Coleman said he was paid for the time he spent in bible study, but it still didn't sit right with him. After missing a bible study in April, Coleman said was fired.
"It was the first, the first I didn't show up...and he let me go," said Coleman.
"I don't expect anybody to pray to God. I don't tell them who they can believe in," said Dahl. He said none of his people are required to attend bible studies.
Dahl said he didn't fire Coleman; he said Coleman left voluntarily: "When this all came about he was on call and got employment with another payment company."
Coleman is suing Dahl for Religious Discrimination, Whistleblower Retaliation and Wrongful Termination.
Andy Lewinter, an Employment Lawyer in Eugene, said cases like this are often hard to sort out. He said circumstantial evidence plays a very important role.
"One key piece of circumstantial evidence is very often the close timing of a certain event to when the employee got fired or suffered as adverse effect," said Lewinter.
As for Coleman and Dahl, neither side is budging.
"This is different. This is stressful," said Dahl.
"It’s unfortunate that we’ve come to this point," said Coleman.
According to court documents, Coleman and his lawyer are asking for $50,000 for lost income and for $750,000 for mental stress, humiliation, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life.