Four women who sued Church of Scientology for harassment after accusing ‘That ’70s Show’ actor Danny Masterson of raping them at his Hollywood Hills home 20 years ago seek court trial instead of religious arbitration
- The former Church of Scientology members claim Masterson and the church harassed them for coming forward
- They say they were stalked and photographed and one says her pets were killed
- Four women, and the husband of one, filed the civil harassment lawsuit in 2019
- The case is different from the Masterson’s ongoing criminal rape trial
- The court previously told the women to take their harassment claims to religious arbitration, based on an agreement they signed when they joined the church
Four former female members of the Church of Scientology who say they were harassed by the secretive church after coming forward with rape claims against actor Danny Masterson are fighting to have their case heard in public court rather than by religious arbitration.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal took up the case Tuesday after the California Supreme Court ordered the appeals judges to reconsider their previous decision to let the church rule on their claims.
The women have accused the church of hiring people to follow them, photograph them, tap their phones and hack their emails and home security systems. One says the church killed her dog by leaving rat poison wrapped in raw meat on her lawn.
A judge previously said that Scientology has ‘an expressly written doctrine’ that ‘not only discourages, but prohibits’ people from coming forward with assault claims – a policy that likely kept the women silent for years and calls into question the integrity of an internal process.
The four women, and the husband of one, filed the civil harassment lawsuit in 2019, but the church says they signed agreements to settle any claims in front of a panel of Scientologists when they joined, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Actor Danny Masterson, 45, has been accused of rape by five women. Four have filed a civil lawsuit accusing him and the Church of Scientology of harassing them for coming forward
One of the women, Chrissie Carnell-Bixler, says the church killed two of her pets. In January 2020, her husband shared photos of what he said was rat poison in raw meat left in his yard
Ex-girlfriend Bobette Riales tweeted in 2017: ‘Danny Masterson repeatedly raped me. All I seek is justice and to prevent this from ever happening to anyone else as it has for some time’
Masterson, who starred in the hit TV comedy That 70s Show, has been accused of rape by five women. Four are involved in the civil harassment lawsuit and three are part of an ongoing criminal trial in which the actor faces 45 years in prison.
In January, a trial court judge ruled that the women have to let the panel of Scientologists decide their harassment claims because their arbitration agreement was binding.
The appeals court sided with the trial court, but the California Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider.
On Tuesday, the appeals court asked about the church’s process and seemed inclined to let it take hold. One member of the appeals panel suggested that the plaintiffs could go to court if they find the process had been biased.
The women’s lawyer, Marci Hamilton, argued that the religious panel would conduct an investigation ‘solely according to Scientology cannon.’
She also said the women are no longer in the church and shouldn’t have to abide by its rules.
‘This would be traumatizing for my clients,’ Hamilton said, according to WBRZ.
A court is now deciding whether a harassment case filed by four women should proceed in public court or in private religious arbitration within the church, above in Los Angeles
The women say the church and Masterson, of That 70s Show fame, hired people to follow them, photograph them, tap their phones and hack their emails and home security systems
‘It would violate their First Amendment, absolute right to believe and practice whatever religion they choose and to escape the religion they do not want to be a part of.’
Scientology representative William Forman says that a ‘Scientology justice officer’ decides what evidence can be submitted in arbitration, but that the decision can be appealed to the arbitrators, who are members of the church in ‘good standing,’ according to the LA Times.
He also said the women in the lawsuit are not yet considered ‘subversive persons.’
The civil complaint was filed in August 2019 by Chrissie Carnell-Bixler; her husband, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, frontman of Mars Volta; and three other women.
The harassment lawsuit, which also names Masterson, is separate from an ongoing criminal trial against Masterson.
The disgraced actor – who has been married to actress and model Bijou Phillips since 2011 – is charged with raping a 23-year-old woman between January and December 2001, raping a 28-year-old woman in April 2003, and raping another 23-year-old woman between October and December 2003.
Much of the abuse is said to have taken place in his Hollywood Hills home
Masterson was fired from Netflix’s The Ranch, where he starred opposite fellow That 70s Show star Ashton Kutcher, in the middle of shooting the third season after the allegations resurfaced, according to Indiewire.
Masterson, 45, was also accused of sexual assault in two other cases but the DA’s office said they declined to file charges on those, one for insufficient evidence and the other based on the statute of limitations.
Scientology is known for heavily courting celebrity members, an interest of founder L Ron Hubbard. It runs multiple ‘Celebrity Centres,’ including one in Hollywood.
In January 2020, Bixler-Zavala, the husband of accuser Carnell-Bixler, posted an image on Instagram of raw meat which he said had been contaminated with rat poison and placed in his yard by people hired by the church.
A day later, he said his family dog had died.
‘This is the 2nd dog we’ve had to put down due to the harassment from private investigators and Scientologists. This only makes us stronger. My boys named her biscuit. They still don’t understand what’s happening. We said goodbye to her and let her go peacefully.’
Carnell-Bixler, who is part of both the civil and criminal proceedings, says she was dismissed by Scientology officials when she accused Masterson of anally raping her.
In May, she told the court that in November 2001, ‘I was sleeping and I woke up and he (Masterson) was having sex with me.’
Accuser Chrissie Carnell-Bixler and her husband Cedric Bixler-Zavala say the church has killed pets by leaving poison wrapped in food on their lawn
‘I decided I did not want to have sex with him and I fought him and told him to stop. He got angry and pushed all his weight down on my body. I tried to push him off,’ Carnell-Bixler said.
‘He would not stop so I did something I knew would make him angry, I pulled his hair. He has these rules….he has this thing about his hair …..and I know that if I pulled it really hard he would get off me.’
Masterson reacted violently, she said. ‘He hit me,’ she told the court, indicating that he had stuck her inn the cheek with an ‘open fist.’
When he finally got off her, said Carnell-Bixler, ‘He stood over me and spit on me and called me white trash.’
She went on to describe a second incident a month later in December 2001 which started with she and Masterson going out to dinner at a restaurant where she said she drank ‘a glass or two’ of wine.
‘The last thing I remember from that night was standing up to leave the restaurant. I don’t remember anything more.
Masterson has been married to actress Bijou Phillips since 2011. She has defended Masterson as well as her father, John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, against rape accusations
Phillips, a model and socialite in the early 2000s, mocked one of Masterson’s alleged victims
‘When I woke up the next morning, I had no memory of the night before. I had no clothes on and I was confused.
‘The first thing I noticed was that my whole body hurt and the back of my head hurt. I was injured in my rectal area. There was a little blood and I felt torn. It hurt to sit down and it hurt to go to the bathroom.’
She confronted Masterson, she said. ‘I asked him what happened last night. I have no memory and my bottom is injured.
‘He laughed at me and he said he had sex with me there (the rear area). I said. ‘Was I unconscious the whole time and he sad ‘yes.’
Carnell-Bixler – who Masterson recruited into the Church of Scientology – said she went to Church of Scientology officials Miranda and Chris Scoggins to report the alleged anal rape.
‘I told Miranda “He raped me.” And she told me, “You cannot rape someone you are in a relationship with. Don’t say the word rape again.”‘
Carnell-Bixler said that the Scientology officials told her not to say anything to outsiders about the traumatic incident, making her fear that she could be declared a ‘suppressive person’.
‘That means that other Scientologists can lie to them, trick them, ultimately destroy that person.’
Another victim, named only as N. Trout, said the Scientologist actor ‘commanded’ her to come to his Hollywood Hills home where he allegedly raped her in the shower, then moved to his bed where he sexually ‘pounded’ her from behind, ‘like a jackhammer.’
‘I started to vomit in my mouth…I get ravaged, like a rag doll. It was very rough sex. I was not in charge of all my faculties…I was spent.’
The church, known for courting known members, has a ‘Celebrity Centre’ in Hollywood, above
One of the actor’s accusers says she was ‘ravaged, like a rag doll’ by his ‘very rough sex’
She said Masterson ejaculated on her stomach then, ‘trying to act like a gentleman,’ wiped it off with a wet towel.
Trout ran into Masterson at an event five years later and when she said hi, he didn’t respond. ‘He was staring at me with kind of a death stare. He looked like he wanted to kill me.’
She added that she did not report the alleged rape to the Church of Scientology. ‘Because I knew I would be in trouble……I had been told previously that you don’t report another Scientologist.
‘You mustn’t do that or you will lose everything…You are excommunicated and you will lose everything.’
Religious arbitration expert and law professor Michael A. Helfand told the LA Times that the appeals court seemed inclined to let the harassment case go to religious arbitration once again.
‘I think the court has an intuition that something is awry with this arbitration,’ he said. But the plaintiffs’ lawyers ‘did not provide the court with an adequate way to differentiate this form of arbitration with other forms of permissible arbitration.’
He said the arbitration agreement is shifty because members must be ‘in good standing’ with the church, a vague description that could be interpreted in many ways.
Phillips has stood by her husband Masterson amid the various rape allegations and even took to Instagram to ridicule Carnell-Bixler’s claims that Scientologists had her dogs killed.
Phillips also supported her father, John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, against incest and sexual abuse claims by her sister Mackenzie Phillips.
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