Former American Atheist Director Sues Group Over Alleged Racial Discrimination; Objected to 'Slaves' Billboard

The former director of development of American Atheists, one of the nation's largest secular groups, is suing her former employer for alleged racial discrimination and wrongful termination after she was let go in September 2012. AA denied that there was a racial motive behind her firing.

Skeptic Ink reported on Monday that A.J. Johnson filed a lawsuit that claims she was "forced to listen to various racial jokes and was subjected to unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious and persistent verbal attacks on everything, including her competence."

"It claims 'unfounded complaints' against her competence and that this was in spite of excellent performance, citing 'dramatically' increased donations which it was her job to solicit," the article explains.

Last year, American Atheists joint-sponsored a billboard in central Pennsylvania showing an African-American slave in a restraining device next to a quote from Colossians 3:22, which reads, "Slaves, obey your masters." The ad was made in opposition to the state's House of Representatives declaring 2012 the "Year of the Bible," but it is something that Johnson claims she was forced to support while at the secular organization.

AA President David Silverman denied that Johnson was fired based on racial motives, and said that racial abuse would not be tolerated at the secular organization.

"As President of American Atheists I can assure you that Ms. Johnson was not terminated for any reason relating to her race. Working for American Atheists was Ms. Johnson's first professional position after college and it became clear (after an extended review period) that we needed someone with more experience in her position," he explained in an official statement on Monday.

Silverman claims that the former director of development gave her public support to the controversial "slaves" billboard, and even volunteered to rally support for the ad from African-American atheists.

"In addition, Ms. Johnson was never subjected to racial jokes at any time, nor would anyone at American Atheists tolerate such behavior," Silverman stated.

The American Atheists president also responded to the Skeptic Ink report, including the claim that AA "appears to be losing gender, sexual, and racial diversity," with just one woman left in its list of national directors.

Silverman addresses the accusations point by point, concluding that the atheist organization "has a fantastic and diverse staff and board" which is here to "serve all facets of the atheist community."

Along with claims of racial discrimination, the lawsuit further states that Johnson confronted Silverman in June 2012 over using organizational funds for personal trips.

Denying the allegation, Silverman responded, "Ms. Johnson's claims of whistleblowing are vague, so we can't be sure what she is alleging. However, American Atheists' books are open and transparent, and our financials are audited every year by an independent accounting firm. The board receives regular financial updates from me, and as always, all members are free to ask any questions."