Tough Time for Scientologists: A Story in The New Yorker and a Lawsuit in Portland

 It's shaping up to be a tough month both in Portland and nationwide for the Church of Scientology.

On a national level, a takedown published this week in The New Yorker can't be good for the religion founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.

And locally, Scientologists face a lawsuit filed Feb. 4 by a woman claiming exposure to toxic fumes in a downtown Portland building owned by the Church.

The suit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court claims Teresa Barney was working for Legal Aid Services of Oregon in 2009 out of a leased office in the Stevens Building at 812 SW Washington St. The building is owned by the Church of Scientology.

According to the suit, the heat in Barney's office wasn't working two years ago despite repeated requests to property managers to fix the problem. Barney was forced to use a space heater at work to keep warm, the lawsuit says.

The heater released toxic fumes from a built-in cabinet in Barney's work space, according to the lawsuit. As a result, Barney suffered respiratory failure at work and was rushed to the hospital on Feb. 6, 2009, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Barney faced harassment and criticism at work for complaining about the incident. In September 2009 she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, severe anxiety and severe depression, the lawsuit says.

The suit, filed by Portland lawyer Patrick Angel, seeks $1.9 million in economic damages plus $3 million for pain and suffering. Besides the Church of Scientology, the suit also names Legal Aid Services of Oregon and Income Property Management Company as co-defendants.

Gwen Barnard, director of special affairs for the Church of Scientology in Portland, declined to comment.

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