Archdiocese Is Sued for Illegal Dismissals; Women Win $1.2 Million for Age Discrimination
Gibeau, Dawn, National Catholic Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- An age discrimination lawsuit that may be without precedent against the Catholic church in the United States brought nine women awards totaling $1.2 million in damages March 16.
Ramsey County Judge Joanna Smith awarded the damages in the women's case against the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese. They contended that because of their ages they lost their jobs as support staff employees of the archdiocese's Catholic Education Center during a 1991 office reorganization.
Smith, who presided at a nonjury trial in December, found that Dominican Sr. Nathalie Meyer, center director, used the reorganization to terminate the women, aged 46-66 when they left their jobs, and to replace them with personnel 35 years old and younger.
The award comes on the heels of growing complaints over workplace injustices in Catholic church facilities. In the Jan. 21 issue, NCR reported on widespread charges by former church workers of dismissals without cause. Last fall, Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien said in a public address that "church employees -- the great majority of whom are women -- will continue to be abused, intimidated, calumniated and fired without cause or recourse" until employees bring successful suits against the church.
The archdiocese, in a prepared statement, said it was "shocked and disappointed" by the verdict and will appeal. Smith ruled that both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the archdiocese's contract with employees, as spelled out in its employment handbook, were violated and that archdiocesan arguments that the restructuring process was fair and responsible "are not worthy of belief."
As part of the restructuring, Meyer hired a temporary-employment agency to test applicants for positions. …