Did you see this Globe story over the weekend? If not, don’t miss it. It’s wild – like something the Texas Republican party might have cooked up. The story concerns Ling Chai, the wife of Mass GOP chair Bob Maginn, and the company that the two of them jointly run. Chai is the founder, president, and COO of Jenzabar, a company that makes educational software; Maginn is the company’s chairman and CEO.
The story is about a lawsuit filed by a former employee, Jing Zhang, against Chai, Jenzabar, and two nonprofits that are affiliated with Jenzabar. Zhang’s principal affiliation appears to have been with a Jenzabar-affiliated nonprofit called “All Girls Allowed,” which opposes China’s one-child policy, though Zhang alleges that her contract and her paychecks all came from Jenzabar itself. According to the lawsuit:
Chai fired [Zhang] for being insufficiently religious and for declining to engage in “weekly corporate worship.”
Attached to the lawsuit is a March e-mail that purportedly issued Zhang an ultimatum: She could either “seek the will of God in her life on a daily basis through study of God’s word and through prayer” or start looking for a new job. That document asked Zhang to agree to statements, including, “I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and apart from him nobody can receive eternal life and enter the kingdom of God.” If she disagreed, the document said, Zhang would undergo a one-year mediation period, during which she would continue to be paid but would lose funding for her New York office, have to train her successor, surrender all her contacts in China, and agree not to slander Chai.
“When she demurred, she was fired,” said Daniel L. Alterman, one of Zhang’s attorneys….
According to the latest suit, … Chai began asking Zhang to set aside time in the office for prayer, to attend retreats, and to participate in Bible study on two-hour daily conference calls from her New York office at times that often conflicted with Zhang’s calls to China, according to the suit.
Early this year, the suit says, Zhang was ordered to change the agency’s programs to require that all of their field workers in China and any recipients of their aid were Christians.
In February, Chai told her that she needed to begin practicing her religion more devoutly if she wanted to continue working there.
The company’s response is, to me anyway, a surprising one.
[I]n a statement from All Girls Allowed, spokeswoman Kat Lewis defended the right of the charitable group to emphasize faith and said Zhang was aware of the “requirements to succeed” when she took the job in 2010.
“As a ministry and faith-based organization, the law makes allowances for such an infusion of faith into the work of All Girls Allowed,” Lewis said in the statement. Calling the lawsuit a “smear campaign” and “meritless,” the organization’s statement also said Zhang was fired for performance issues, including her “refusal to abide by the faith-based conditions of her employment that she knew and accepted when she began working with All Girls Allowed.”
Uh, OK. But this wrinkle might prove problematic with respect to that argument:
Kevin Mintzer, another attorney for Zhang, said All Girls Allowed’s articles of incorporation show it was formed as a human rights organization, not a religious group.
He said that Zhang, a Catholic, never agreed to practice her faith in the same manner as her boss, who is an evangelical Christian. “She’s not an irreligious person. She does believe,” Mintzer said of Zhang. “But she had no interest in entanglement with work and having requirements of praying on the job and worshiping a certain way. It was completely thrust upon her.”
As might this one:
Whether or not All Girls Allowed might qualify for a religious exemption, he said, Zhang was technically not even an employee of that organization. “She was a Jenzabar Inc. employee,” Mintzer said. “They gave that to her in a contract two times. Every pay stub she ever got was from Jenzabar.”
Jenzabar was in the public eye recently for bringing various Republicans on board as consultants not long after Maginn took over as chair of the state GOP. Also, according to the Globe, the company “has in recent years been targeted in unrelated lawsuits that resulted in quiet settlements.” Interesting track record, Bob.