Suit Alleging School Librarian Fired Over Sex Abuse Reporting Advances

By: Lauren Kirkwood, The Daily Record, March 7, 2016

A former school librarian’s lawsuit alleging a Baltimore Catholic high school fired her because she reported allegations of a teacher’s sexual abuse of a student can move forward, a federal judge has ruled.

Annette Goodman claims Archbishop Curley High School terminated her employment because her report of the alleged abuse brought unwanted attention to the school and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Curley contends she was fired because she waited weeks to report the abuse allegations.

In its unsuccessful motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the all-boys school argued that the religious organizations exemption in Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination at schools receiving federal funds, bars Goodman’s retaliation claim

Because canon law and archdiocese policy require “immediate reporting” of child sex abuse, the defendants claimed, the school was following its religious tenets by filing Goodman.

Judge Richard D. Bennett denied the defendants’ motion, however, finding that courts have interpreted the religious organizations exemption narrowly and that allowing Goodman’s retaliation claim to proceed would not “unconstitutionally entangle the Court in [their internal religious affairs.”

“The United States Supreme Court has recognized the importance of retaliation claims in Title IX enforcement, and no court has since held that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption precludes a Plaintiff fi’om raising a Title IX retaliation claim simply because the employer has proposed a religious reason for her termination,” Bennett wrote week. “On the contrary, Courts have recognized that simply allowing an employment discrimination or retaliation claim to proceed … does not threaten a Defendant’s religious interests or feedoms.”

Goodman’s lawyer praised the ruling. “The court got this right – there is no exemption for religious institutions that allows them to retaliate against employees who report sexual abuse of a student,” said Linda M. Correia of Correia & Puth PLLC in Washington.

Archbishop Curley and the Archdiocese of Baltimore also argued that letting Goodman’s claim proceed would violate their First Amendment rights, but Bennett disagreed, ruling the First Amendment does not amount to a “blanket exemption from discrimination laws” for religious institutions.

“Courts have long-recognized that First Amendment protections do not unquestionably foreclose anti-discrimination actions, especially where a Plaintiff’s job duties are not religious in nature, as is the case here,” he wrote.

Ward B. Coe III of Gallagher, Evelius & Jones LLP in Baltimore, an attorney for the defendants, declined to comment Thursday on the ruling.

Reporting allegations

Goodman began working at Archbishop Curley in August 2013. On March 6, 2014, a student told her about an alleged “inappropriate relationship” between Lynette Trotta, a teacher at the school, and another student.

Goodman initially dismissed the report as a rumor, but several days later, the second student confirmed to her that he was involved in a relationship with a member of the faculty, although he did not identify Trotta by name, the suit states.

The student asked Goodman to keep the information confidential, according to the lawsuit. Goodman was unsure of the proper procedure for reporting a serious allegation and feared the potential consequences for the student, the suit states.

Less than a week later, Goodman decided she would report the allegations to school officials the next day, but before she could do so, she suffered a medical emergency that led to a two-day hospital stay, the suit states.

On April 1, 2014, the day after she returned to work, Goodman told the school’s vice principal and principal about the alleged abuse, leading police to come to the school’s campus to investigate. Goodman was chastised by school officials for speaking about the allegations, according to her lawsuit. She was suspended without pay the next day and fired about a week later, according to the lawsuit. Goodman filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last year.

The case is Annette Goodman v. Archbishop Curley High School el al., 1:15-cv-00627-RDB.

Read the Daily Record article, here.