SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle-area megachurch that counts celebrities such as Russell Wilson and Justin Bieber among its thousands of members has been accused in a lawsuit of requiring employees to donate some of their earnings back to the religious organization or risk being fired.
Employee Rachel Kellogg alleges Churchome and its leaders “engaged in a systemic scheme of wage and hour abuse against their employees,” including the requirement that all employees tithe 10% of their gross earned wages per month, according to the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court last week.
If they didn’t, the lawsuit says, they would face pressure, discipline or termination, The Seattle Times reported.
Kellogg, who worked in video and production for Churchome, says she wasn’t informed of the policy until after her hiring in 2019. The lawsuit argues the practice violates the state’s Consumer Protection Act, as well as hour and wage laws.
“Regardless of whether this is a church, or not a church, or a nonprofit or a for-profit corporation, requiring employees to rebate any wages to an employer is an unlawful practice,” said Eric Nusser, one of Kellogg’s attorneys at Terrell Marshall Law Group.
The lawsuit includes communications between Kellogg and employees who mention the need for her to tithe 10%, as well as a supervisor reprimanding her with the “expectation that you get in rhythm with our company policy on tithing.” The reprimand came after she stopped tithing because she was struggling financially due to a 2020 car accident, the lawsuit said.
Churchome declined an interview request from The Seattle Times on Wednesday.
Churchome said in a statement from attorney Nathaniel Taylor that its employee handbook and statement of faith include tithing and that the church doesn’t deduct tithe from employee paychecks but asks all employees to live out this practice.
“The First Amendment protects a church’s right to restrict employment to those employees who choose to abide by church teaching. Churchome intends to vigorously defend the rights of all religious institutions to live, teach, and model their faith through their employees,” the statement said.
The lawsuit names Churchome as a defendant along with pastors Judah and Chelsea Smith and CEO David Kroll and his wife, Jenna Kroll. The Smiths and David Kroll are on the 10-member board of directors, which also includes former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, now of the Denver Broncos.
The Smiths have long been the face of a movement of churches that has garnered followers — and criticism — for their highly produced sermons and embrace of social media. Earlier this month, musician Lana Del Rey released an album that included nearly five minutes of Smith preaching, KNKX reported.
Churchome is primarily supported by membership tithes and offerings, according to a 2021-2022 financial report. In 2022, the organization listed $35.4 million in total assets.
Churchome has weekly live services at its Kirkland campus in Washington and monthly in Beverly Hills, California.