Sunday, December 16, 2012

Claim Against Archdiocese By Bookkeeper Who Exposed Abusive Priest's Presence Is Dismissed On 1st Amendment Grounds

In Weiter v. Kurtz, (KY App., Dec. 14, 2012), the Court of Appeals of Kentucky dismissed a wrongful discharge claim against the Archdiocese of Louisville and other defendants by Margie Weiter, a former bookkeeper-receptionist who was fired from her position at a Louisville parish after she insisted on complaining to her supervisor and Archdiocese personnel that James Schook, a priest accused of child molestation, was being allowed to live at the parish. She also alerted parents of this fact. Additionally, the court dismissed a claim for outrage filed by Weiter and her husband (who as a child was a victim of clergy sexual abuse).  The court said in part:
Although Margie is a secular employee, her wrongful termination claim necessarily depends on matters of church governance and church administration and is therefore barred by the First Amendment.  The root of Margie’s wrongful termination claim is her disagreement with church policy.  She claims that the Archdiocese eliminated her position in retaliation for speaking out against decisions made by the Archdiocese’s governing body; i.e., where Schook should be allowed to reside pending the outcome of the investigation.  Margie’s complaint cites Archdiocese policies and procedures.  Accordingly, to adjudicate that claim, the court would be forced to decide whether the Church acted in accordance withits policies and whether those policies were appropriate matters that the First Amendment commits solely to the Church.  The trial court properly held Margie’s claims for outrage and wrongful termination were barred by the First Amendment.
The court also rejected on the merits plaintiff's claim for wrongful discharge.  Judge Moore concurred only in the result.  (See prior related posting.)