Lawyers for the Church of Scientology and a former member settled a lawsuit she filed nearly a decade ago, in which she alleged she was forced to work long hours before she was a teen and was coerced to have an abortion at age 17, lawyers for the parties told a judge Monday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney met with the attorneys for the church and plaintiff Laura Ann DeCrescenzo in chambers, then announced from the bench that the upcoming Aug. 13 first phase of trial was vacated in light of the settlement.
Lawyers for both sides confirmed outside the courtroom that a resolution was reached, but they declined further comment.
The church was a defendant in the suit along with its Religious Technology Center. The suit’s allegations included forced abortion, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices and wage and hour violations.
Although now-retired Judge Ronald Sohigian previously dismissed the case, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed his decision in June 2011 and sent the case back to the judge to determine whether the church was permitted to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.
According to a sworn declaration by DeCrescenzo, she began volunteering to do church work at age 6 or 7 in Orange County. She says that at age 7, she was part of a Scientology group organized to picket the very civil courthouse where trial of her lawsuit would take place.
She claimed the demonstration showed the church’s ability to “go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits” against the institution, whose followers include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
“I believed that if I took any action against the Church of Scientology — whether filing a lawsuit or even speaking negatively about the Church of Scientology — that I would be subjected to severe retribution, including significant financial penalties and loss of my family,” DeCrescenzo stated.
When DeCrescenzo was 12, she was recruited to join the organization’s elite Sea Org, which she said is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the religion worldwide.
DeCrescenzo alleged she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and that two more hours were later added to her work day. DeCrescenzo says she remained with Sea Org until 2004, when she was 25.
She says she was told she could not leave Sea Org and was released from duty only after she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing bleach.
DeCrescenzo alleged she became pregnant in February 1996 and was convinced by the church to abort her fetus to show her allegiance to Sea Org and its long hours.
The trial was scheduled to be conducted in two phases, beginning with a non-jury trial before Mooney to determine whether DeCrescenzo acted reasonably in waiting so long to file her lawsuit. If he ruled in her favor, a jury would have decided any liability and damages.
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