By: Van Smith, The City Paper, March 6, 2015
When Archbishop Curley High School science teacher Lynette Trotta was arrested last April for having sex with a student, the librarian who first brought the abuse to the school’s attention, Annette Goodman, was first suspended, then fired, for not reporting the information sooner. Turns out, Goodman claims the school and the Archdiocese of Baltimore fired her “in an attempt to cover up their deliberate indifference to Trotta’s known acts of inappropriate behavior with students,” violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, which bars schools from retaliating against someone who reports such abuse.
Goodman’s lawyer, Linda Correia, a nationally prominent attorney with experience prosecuting Title IX cases, filed suit yesterday in Maryland U.S. District Court on her behalf against Archbishop Curley and the Archdiocese.
When Trotta was arrested last April 4, the Archdiocese issued a statement. “A number of weeks ago,” it reads in part, “Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.”
The same day, David Clohessy, the director of the national anti-abuse group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), issued a statement to “urge Catholic officials to fire and denounce–not just suspend–the librarian who kept silent about these crimes for weeks.” Goodman was fired on April 10.
Turns out, according to Goodman’s lawsuit, her attempts to convey on Apr. 1 to the administration what she’d learned over a period of weeks were met with inaction, confusion, and anger. Here’s the timeline, as laid out in Goodman’s 14-page complaint:
Feb. 2014: Goodman learns the school “had recently taken disciplinary action against” Trotta for “inappropriate physical behavior with students” which “placed limitations on Trotta’s interactions with students” but “did not suspend or fire” her.
March 6: A student tells Goodman that Trotta and a friend of his “did it” in a car, but Goodman “dismissed the idea” because “it was not uncommon for the students to engage in” rumors about sex.
March 12: Goodman meets with the student who’d told her about the incident and Trotta’s victim, who nods yes when asked if he’s “in a relationship that is currently making you uncomfortable” with “a member of the faculty,” who he would not identify.
March 18: Goodman against meets with the two students, and this time the victim identifies Trotta as the teacher he’d had sexual relations with, but asks Goodman to keep the information confidential. Goodman “was afraid of how the school administration and Trotta’s husband, a math and science teacher” at the school, “would react to her reporting the allegations,” “was unaware of the correct procedure for reporting such a serious allegation,” and “feared what the consequences would be for” the victim, who’d ask for confidentiality. Her fears were heightened due to the school’s “previous passive response to allegations regarding Trotta.”
March 23: Goodman decides to report the information the next day.
March 24: Goodman goes to school, but has a panic attack, and the school nurse finds that “she was experiencing a hypertensive emergency,” and she was “rushed to the hospital by ambulance.” She’s out of work until March 30.
April 1: First thing in the morning, Goodman tries to talk with vice principal Brian Kohler, but the meeting is delayed for a couple of hours. Eventually she tells Kohler what she’d been told. “If I don’t look surprised,” Kohler says, “it’s because, well, I’m a professional and I’ve heard all of this before.” Goodman asks if she can remain anonymous, but Kohler “said he was not sure” about that, and “seemed unsure of the appropriate next steps to take,” advising her to “not tell anyone” and that “he would figure out how to best move forward.”
April 1: At around noon, Goodman tells principal Phil Piercy about the allegations, but he “similarly seemed unsure of the appropriate next steps” and also told Goodman “not to say anything.” Piercy then relates the matters to Father Joe Benicewicz, the school’s president. At a school event that afternoon, Benicewicz “ignored” Goodman’s “attempts at an interaction” and instead proceeded “to angrily glare at her for the remainder” of the event.
April 2: Trotta’s victim tells Goodman that he’d been interviewed by police detectives, but he’d “denied everything,” and Goodman tells him “he should have told the truth.” Later that day, Goodman overhears students discussing a rumor that Trotta and her victim “had sex.” So Goodman goes to see Piercy, updates him, and asks if she should continue “to tell him if she found out more,” but Piercy tells her, “I don’t know,” says “I’ll call the Child Protective Services representative and see how she wants us to deal with this,” and gives Goodman an order: “Don’t say anything to anyone about anything.”
April 2: In the afternoon, Benicewicz yells at Goodman, “I am VERY, VERY upset with you! Were you or were you not told not to speak to anybody?” Goodman responds, “Yes, but the victim talked to me. I didn’t say anything,” and Benicewicz yells back, “Don’t even go there!” Goodman begins to cry, as Benicewicz’s conduct confirmed her “reasonable fear that the administration would react badly to her report of sexual abuse,” and it seemed to her “the school wanted to keep the allegation quiet.”
April 2: Goodman is interviewed by detectives. Afterward, she meets with Piercy, Benicewicz, and other administrators, along with the lawyer for the school and the Archdiocese, David Kinkopf. She tells them what she told the detectives. They tell her she “had broken Archdiocese of Baltimore policies, Canon law and state law and she was suspended without pay.”
April 10: Goodman is fired.
Before that meeting, the lawsuit explains, “there was no mention” from Kohler or Piercy “about policies or procedures” Goodman “must take following the report.” The lawsuit accuses the school and the Archdiocese of retaliating against Goodman for reporting what she’d heard about Trotta’s abuse “by suspending her without pay, terminating her employment, informing her that it would share its reasons for termination with potential employers when contacted for a reference, publicly blaming her, and ruining her reputation.”
Goodman seeks an unspecified amount of money, expenses, and attorneys’ fees for bringing the lawsuit, a declaration that the conduct of the school and the Archdiocese violated Title IX, and “such other relief as this Court deems just and proper,” according to the lawsuit.
Trotta, meanwhile, in October pleaded guilty to fourth-degree sex offense, and received a one-year suspended sentence and three years of supervised probation, according to online court records.
Read the City Paper article here.