America’s Transportation Security Administration (aka the TSA) had an interesting HR issue on their hands when one employee complained because she feared another employee might cast a spell on her.
Carole Smith, the Wiccan, had worked for the TSA for 7 months, was still a probationary employee but was in the top 10% of for catching weapons in the X-ray machine, had caught a $30,000 smuggling attempt herself and was better than some other officers at searching old or special needs travellers due, in part, to her massage therapist training.
Her one-time mentor, Mary Bagnoli, reported Smith because she was scared of witchcraft. Bagnoli claims that Carole Smith had once followed her along the highway and casting a spell to hex Bagnoli’s car heater.
Oddly, Bagnoli admits she didn’t actually see Smith’s car. She just saw Smith. It’s perhaps understandable that Carole mused with press;
I thought to myself, what, did she see me flying on a broom?
In case you’re wondering how the TSA resolved this tension – don’t bother. They fired Carole Smith.
She first discovered she might be in for trouble when an assistant director at the TSA told her she was being investigated in a threat of workplace violence. The director, Matthew W. Lloyd said in his testimony that he realised straight away there was no real threat of violence. That highway? It was the only way towards her home from the airport. Lloyd acknowledges it was a personality conflict aggregated by fear of an unfamiliar religion.
Lloyd wanted to arrange a mediation session between Carole Smith and Bagnoli where Smith could explain what Wicca was about. This made Smith uncomfortable.
“I’m like, ‘No.’ I refused to do that. It’s not up to me to teach her my religion. I mean, would I have to go down and sit with her if I was Jewish?”
It does look as if Lloyd’s done his best. When he got the original complaint he took steps to keep both women on separate shifts, even on different break schedules, while he investigated. He later admitted to the Judge that he knew nothing of Wicca at the time of the complaint, was not even aware it was a religion and had to investigate it afterwards.
It’s worth noting the TSA’s side of the story. At the hearing, their attorney Cheryl Scott-Johnson argued that;
“There was no discrimination here based on Ms. Smith’s religion. Ms. Smith was removed during her probationary period because of conduct, behavior and her performance. … It’s like almost every person, almost all the supervisors, had problems with Ms. Smith. … She just assumes, or concludes, that it all had to do with her religion. In fact, as brought out in the testimony, she started having problems before anybody even knew she was Wicca.”
The news site NBC has a detailed story on this case which is worth a read if you’re interested.
In Pure Spirit
What would you have done? One employee apparently frightened another and yet was the fear due to small-minded misunderstanding?