SUBLETTE COUNTY – There was little argument that former Enterprise Products employee Benjamin D. Crosland might have cause to believe the company discriminated when it cut his wages and benefits, then fired him after he claimed religious exemptions to wearing a mask or getting a COVID vaccine.
Crosland, who worked for Enterprise for 14 years, said corporate officials “wrongfully terminated” him and made four claims for relief in his 9th District Court civil complaint.
But on Friday during a videoconference hearing, District Judge Marv Tyler explained to Crosland that his courtroom is not the first place Crosland needed to make his claims.
Crosland appeared stunned, repeating he wanted justice in that courtroom. He said he would have to “call on God” for justice.
The hearing centered on Enterprise attorney Timothy Stubson’s amended motion to dismiss the suit, stating Crosland first needed to “exhaust” administrative remedies by filing a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services.
Crosland asked how those agencies could provide him with rights that God has already given him. He said no lawyer would take his case so he was representing himself. “I want a jury trial for the truth to be heard.”
Also, Stubson argued Crosland’s claims of reckless endangerment and federally protected activities are not viable civil claims.
Stubson summarized the company’s “changing circumstances” during the COVID-19 pandemic with policies to enforce employees’ compliance by getting a vaccine or wearing a facemask. Crosland provided religious objections and was asked to find solutions within a day; the proposals he made were rejected and he was fired.
“The allegations are fairly straightforward,” Stubson said of Crosland’s claims. “We don’t dispute them. This is not a vaccine mandate case.”
Enterprise adopted the COVID policy “to incentivize and encourage employees to get vaccines” as well as masking and social distancing, he said. Enterprise determined it could not accept Crosland’s proposed solutions, such as driving one fleet truck by himself. He was fired that day.
When it was his turn, Crosland said he is grateful to be here, “to have a life in a country where people have died to provide me these rights and preserve these rights.”
He said he had witnesses and proof that Enterprise supervisors did not follow the mask and distancing policies.
“Put the First Amendment out there, put the Fifth Amendment out there,” he said, adding the Wyoming Constitution gives citizens the right to health-care access so people can make their own decisions. “At what point do my rights end?”
Judge Tyler asked Crosland if he looked at the federal and state cases and statutes about referring employee grievances to the EEOC. “Yes,” Crosland said. Likewise, he said he read the Wyoming Fair Labor Standards and Civil Rights Act.
“To me, my rights were given to me by God and the government is supposed to protect those rights,” Crosland said. He reviewed interactions with corporate officials before he was fired, saying they both needed more time and discussion.
“They fired me because Enterprise … I’m too much of a financial burden, that I’m a health and safety risk to them. Are we going to be bound by money or are we going to be bound by rights in this country? I’m just trying to protect our rights as a citizen, a taxpayer.”
Judge Tyler then referred directly to Wyoming employment laws, reading aloud to Crosland that it is unfair to discharge, demote or discriminate against a qualified person, disabled or otherwise, because of race, creed, sex and other personal reasons.
He then read the definition of “creed” as “a formal statement of religious beliefs,” adding the law makes it unfair to discriminate on that basis.
“You should file a claim with the Wyoming Department of Labor,” he said. “You can pursue your rights through the Department of Labor.”
He told Crosland that Stubson was saying, “… You can’t just sue in court first; you have to go to an agency to pursue this. If that’s true, the court can’t take action because you did not take the actions.”
He continued, “Everything says you have your rights. It’s about how to pursue these two claims in particular.”
Crosland said he understood the argument but “I was fired one day right after trying to make accommodations. … No discussions, that was it.”
Judge Tyler then read the federal law stating it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against or segregate employees with wages or a job specifically on the basis of religion “but you must pursue through one of two agencies. I just want you to understand what the basis is (for the motion to dismiss).”
“Do you have any position about that,” Judge Tyler asked Crosland.
“Looks like it’s getting dismissed,” Crosland said. “ … I have no knowledge that my rights only exist by going through one of these agencies.”
The judge said he was “trying to articulate” the basis of Enterprise’s motion to dismiss – that a person is required to pursue the state or federal discrimination remedy before bringing a civil lawsuit “because you’re not understanding.”
Crosland again requested a jury trial and justice. “I’m not going to harm anyone. If this court can’t get me justice … I’m going to ask God to intervene here and take care of this for me.”
Stubson said he appreciated Crosland’s passion for constitutional rights “but there is a mechanism to facilitate the protection of those rights. A very simple procedure that wasn’t done in this case.”
Judge Tyler then ruled that Crosland “had not exhausted his administrative remedies (under state or federal law) based on religion or creed” and ordered the lawsuit dismissed.
He asked if Crosland had anything to say. After a long pause, Crosland said, “No.”
Judge Tyler said as a pro se plaintiff he could appeal legal errors to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“I just look for justice,” Crosland said. “If I’m not granted justice here I’m just going to ask God to do justice, on the people here.”