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Former members of the Church of Scientology who accuse the organization of harassing them to cover up sexual assault will not have their claims heard in court. Instead, a California judge ruled Thursday, their claims will have to be weighed in a private arbitration process designed by the organization itself.
The ruling stems from a 2019 lawsuit accusing “That 70s Show” star Danny Masterson of sexual assault — and the Church of Scientology of harassing them to drop the claims. The suit was filed by actor and former girlfriend Chrissie Carnell Bixler, her husband and Mars Volta lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, two anonymous accusers, and actor Bobette Riales.
In their complaint, Masterson, “a high-ranking member of Church of Scientology and Religious Technology,” is accused of sexually assaulting Bixler at various times between 1996 and 2002, drugging and raping another woman twice, in 2002 and 2003, and assaulting a woman while she was too intoxicated to consent. The accusers allege that they then faced harassment from Scientology agents, including stalking and threats of violence.
In the December 30 court order, Judge Steven J. Kleifield of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, did not address the merits of the claims. Rather, the ruling states that former members of the Church of Scientology are bound by an arbitration clause signed by all who join the organization.
That clause states that members of the organization agree “to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion in all matters relating to Scientology Religious Services, in all my dealings with any nature with the Church.”
Signatories agree to resolve any conflict within the organization’s own “binding religious arbitration procedures.”
Because she was never a member, and thus never signed away her rights to seek justice through the court system, Thursday’s ruling does not apply to Riales, an actor and former girlfriend who accuses Masterson of raping her multiple times during their relationship.
In June, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged Masterson with forcibly raping three women at his home in the early 2000s.
Masterson denies the claims.
In a statement to E! News, a lawyer for the actor praised Thursday’s court ruling.
“This was absolutely the correct result,” attorney Andrew Brettler said. “We look forward to arbitrating the claims, as the court directed.”
The Church of Scientology did not respond to a request for comment. But it previously rejected the accusations against it, calling the lawsuit a “dishonest and hallucinatory publicity stunt.”
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