Air Force Pledges to Review 'Witch' Complaint from Fired Hindu

Deborah Schoenfeld, a former Air Force contractor and Hindu who said she was called a witch by coworkers and then fired by the service when she complained, now plans to sue. (Photo courtesy Military Religious Freedom Foundation)
Deborah Schoenfeld, a former Air Force contractor and Hindu who said she was called a witch by coworkers and then fired by the service when she complained, now plans to sue. (Photo courtesy Military Religious Freedom Foundation)

The Air Force says it will continue to look into allegations of religious discrimination against a Hindu woman fired in September from her job as a contract dental technician at Epes Clinic at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity office located at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, in October dismissed the discrimination complaint that Deborah Schoenfeld filed in September, saying it arrived too late and because the employees she named were not in the Air Force.

Schoenfeld told Military.com Nov. 6 that she plans to sue the service.

Air Force Capt. Connie Dillon, chief of public affairs for the 11th Wing at Andrews, told Military.com Nov. 12 that wing officials "take these allegations seriously and will continue to look into them through the appropriate processes.

"To ensure the integrity of the ongoing processes, we have no additional comment but remain confident the matter will be handled appropriately," Dillon said in an email.

Schoenfeld was fired from her job at the clinic, where she worked for an Air Force dentist, on Sept. 2, the same day she made an informal complaint to the EEO about harassment. She said her supervisor gave as a reason for firing her that she swore at a fellow-employee -- an allegation Schoenfeld denies.

She said co-workers had called her a witch and Satan, and told her that the meditation and yoga she practiced as a Hindu was witchcraft. She described the work environment at the clinic as openly Christian, with workers placing religious tracts on desks and office celebrations -- birthdays or promotions -- starting off with a Christian prayer.

Schoenfeld said that she followed up on her informal complaint with an official on Sept. 9, well within the 15-day time period for filing. She filed the notice by U.S. mail but the EEO office claimed it never received it; she emailed a digital copy on Sept. 29.

The complaint was rejected on Oct. 27, with officials saying the Sept. 29 filing date was 11 days too late.

They also claimed that no one named in her complaint was an Air Force employee, though it does accuse her first-line supervisor, Air Force Tech. Sgt. LaShonda Jones, of soliciting back-dated letters of complaint about her from other clinic employees.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the organization is close to finding a lawyer to represent Schoenfeld.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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