KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and its Bishop Robert Finn violate U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops policies on the handling of priest sex abuse victims, a former grant writer claims. She says she was harassed and fired when the diocese learned she had been an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.
"The environment inside the Chancery office is such that recrimination, retaliation and intimidation prevents those who believe in the precepts found in the 'Protecting God's Children' initiative, the USCCB policies and those promulgated by the diocese from acting in accordance to them," according to the complaint in Jackson County Court.
Margaret Mata worked as a grant writer for the diocese. In July this year, she says, several diocese employees were pushing to make her a full-time diocese employee instead of an independent contractor.
But Mata says that changed when her experience as a longtime advocate for sexual abuse victims came to light.
Mata says she offered her help as an advocate after diocese priest Shawn Ratigan was arrested in May on child pornography charges. When she did, she says, her treatment by diocese officials changed.
"On May 25, 2011 at approximately 3:00 p.m., plaintiff met again with [Diocese CEO] Mr. [David] Malanowski about grants," the complaint states. "During the conversation, Mr. Malanowski abruptly said, 'I assume you are Catholic?' Plaintiff explained she was the product of Catholic schools, was a Christian and Baptist. Mr. Malanowski suddenly ended the meeting."
The next day, Mata says, her supervisors took away her business cards, relieved her of her title and told her she should have never been given the business cards because she was an independent contractor. Mata says she sent her supervisor an email the next day asking whether her telling Malanowski she was not Catholic was the reason for their actions.
"In early June, the diocese reviewed plaintiff's email," the complaint states. "During that review, defendants discovered private information concerning relatives for whom plaintiff had advocated. Upon discovery of that private information, the diocese initiated an investigation into the facts surrounding that private information. ... In early June, the diocese began asking openly whether plaintiff or any member of her family had been abused by a priest."
Later, Mata claims her supervisors asked for a copy of her resume under the guise of considering her for a victim's advocate position.
"She later learned that the request for her resume and background information was not related to a legitimate offer of employment but was rather a continuing investigation into her private affairs," the complaint states.
In June, Mata says she was presented with a contract renewal that contained such severe terms in its confidentiality agreement it made it impossible to continue to work for the diocese. After she voiced her concerns, her supervisors offered her a different grant writing role, which she accepted. Mata says she learned a month later that other independently contracted grant writers were not subjected to the confidentiality agreement.
In August, Mata says, she voluntarily met with the Graves Commission to assist it in its independent review of the diocese. Less than 8 hours later, her remote access to her email and computer were terminated.
Mata says she was told that it was a problem with a virus software update. She says her supervisor took her computer for additional virus updates, but the computer was useless when it was returned.
"When the computer was returned, the information upon which the plaintiff relied for her deliverables had been wiped out," the complaint states. "Her Outlook had been disabled. Her supervisor indicated that she would be able to access historical files to complete grants, but that was not true. Plaintiff could not access the information she needed to successfully complete the terms of her agreement ..."
Mata says she was told that independent contractors would no longer have a diocesan email address.
"Thereafter, on August 31, 2011, the Graves Report was released," the complaint states. "The diocese conducted a thorough search to determine whether plaintiff had discussed the inner workings of the diocese with Graves.
"On September 9, 2011, plaintiff and her supervisor met at Panera Bread Company. During the meeting plaintiff learned of actions by the diocese that rendered her continued her continuing work of [sic] them impossible. It became clear that plaintiff could not function as a grant writer with no title, no role, no access to email and no way to finish her deliverables."
Mata says the level of distrust from the diocese grew to a level that forced her to resign.
The lawsuit is the latest legal blow the diocese has faced from the Ratigan scandal. Last week, 42 former victims of priestly sex abuse sued the diocese for its alleged failure to live up to a 2008 settlement agreement in its handling of Ratigan. The diocese faces several other lawsuits from Ratigan's alleged victims.
Mata seeks $38,000 in actual damages, and punitive damages for breach of contract, retaliation, retaliatory discharge, interference with business expectancy and invasion of privacy. She is represented by Rebecca Randles with Randles, Mata & Brown.