Monday, August 23, 2004

Employee Claims Presecution for Being a Christian

`Devil' of a lawsuit: MIT lab worker claims colleagues persecuted him for being Christian
By J.M. Lawrence
Sunday, August 22, 2004

A devout Christian working at MIT claims co-workers wore phony clerical collars, called him Jesus and blasted the Rolling Stones' ``Sympathy for the Devil'' during a 15-year campaign of harassment and ridicule against him.

In a discrimination lawsuit pending in federal court, machinist Mark A. Peterson contends supervisors at the school's Lincoln Lab in Lexington joined the harassment, ``openly telling jokes about God'' and refusing to reprimand workers who spit in his coffee and left a noose on his workbench.

Peterson, who began work in the lab in 1982 and is now on disability leave, declined comment yesterday when reached at his home in Milford. His attorney David O. Scott also would not comment.

``Employees and/or supervisors at MIT Lincoln Lab have harassed Peterson because of his religious beliefs (Christian), including assaulting him with a chemical, vandalizing and stealing his property, tampering with the machines he was working on and making verbal threats,'' the suit says.

The nine-page lawsuit filed earlier this month also names Peterson's union, the Research Development and Technical Employees' Union, claiming leaders took part in the harassment and did not represent him properly in grievance procedures in 2003.

Peterson claims the trouble began in 1987 when he and another Christian employee began meeting during breaks to read and discuss the Bible. He says he was told not to bring his Bible to work again.

When he complained about workers playing radios in the lab in 1988, one man retaliated by placing a radio in front of him playing the Stones' song (incorrectly listed in the lawsuit as ``Symphony for the Devil'').

His own boss responded by turning up his own radio and later paraded around in a phony ``clergyman's collar,'' according to the lawsuit.

A fake gift certificate to him from suicide doc Jack Kevorkian was posted on the lab bulletin board and a tomato was smashed on his work station. By 1995, another supervisor routinely called him Jesus, God and Moses, Peterson says.

The suit cites actions of harassment by four named employees, including one worker who allegedly sprayed Peterson in the back of the head with ``a caustic substance.''

Lab spokesman Roger Sudbury said he could not comment on pending litigation.