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Former sect member gets favorable ruling

Former sect member gets favorable ruling



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Go to the audiotape. A federal appeals court revived a portion of a lawsuit that claims a man was not rehired at a cabinet company because he quit a southern Utah polygamous sect. Some evidence is on tape.

Shem Fischer sued Forestwood Inc. of Hildale, Utah, and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its leaders. He worked at Forestwood from 1987 until 2000, the year he left the FLDS church.

His father was Forestwood's president and a half-brother was manager. Both were FLDS members, as were all the employees.

Fischer said his employment ended weeks after he protested the firing of another worker who had left the church. When he tried to be rehired, Fischer claims his application was rejected because he was a non-member.

"Drop this suit and let us get back on base and we could go forward again," Fischer's father, Erwin Fischer, now deceased, told his son during a taped conversation.

"If you're suing and fighting Uncle Rulon and wanting to work for his company at the same time, this won't work," he said, referring to Rulon Jeffs, who was head of the church at the time.

A federal judge in Utah barred the taped conversations from evidence, calling them hearsay.

But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver this week said the tapes were "direct evidence" that raised a genuine concern about the reason not to rehire Fischer.

Fischer's attorney, Jim Stewart, said the rehiring claim can be heard again in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

On a separate but related claim, the appeals court said Fischer failed to prove he was fired and actually resigned on his own.

The ruling does not affect a 2005 default judgment entered after the church and church president Warren Jeffs failed to respond to the lawsuit.

Fischer was awarded more than $330,000 in that judgment but has collected only a portion, Stewart said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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