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Man sues diocese after dismissal

Former worker says that he was let go after his complaints about sexual harassment at archives.

By JUDY L. THOMAS
The Kansas City Star

A former worker at the Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic diocesan archives is suing the diocese, claiming he was sexually harassed at work, then dismissed after repeatedly complaining about it.

The civil lawsuit, filed by Larry Probst this week in U.S. District Court, alleges that Probst was subjected to sexually offensive language, sexual advances and pornography on the computers at work. The suit seeks relief under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A spokeswoman said the diocese had not received the lawsuit and was not able to comment on any allegations in it.

But the diocese did say in a statement that Probst worked part time in the archives on an intermittent and as-needed basis when funds were available from June 2005 until June 2011.

“Along with four other positions, Probst’s temporary position was eliminated at the end of the diocesan fiscal year, on June 30, 2011, solely for budgetary reasons,” the diocese responded in its statement. “At the same time, an existing full-time employee with six years of service to the diocese was assigned to offer support to four departments, including the Diocesan Archives.”

The lawsuit brings to more than two dozen the number of cases filed against the diocese in the past year. Most of the others allege sexual abuse by priests.

According to the lawsuit, Probst began working intermittently at the archives about 2000, then started working more regularly in 2007 as an assistant to the Rev. Michael Coleman, the archivist for the diocese.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2010, Coleman befriended a man whom he later hired to perform data entry services for the diocese. Coleman and another priest talked about the man in sexually suggestive ways in Probst’s presence, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit also claims the new employee made sexual advances toward Probst.

Coleman could not be reached for comment.

The “unwanted and unwelcome sexual harassment” from Coleman, the other priest and the new employee occurred from spring 2010 through June 2011, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit also alleges that Probst’s new co-worker left sexually explicit email messages on the diocesan archives computer. The messages, the suit says, were “obvious to anyone who entered the archives.”

Probst alleges in the lawsuit that he reported the offensive emails to Coleman, but that Coleman only seemed concerned about deleting them to keep the co-worker out of trouble. In early 2011, the lawsuit alleges, Probst complained about the incidents to the diocesan spokeswoman and to another diocesan official. In March, the lawsuit alleges, the diocese’s chief financial officer told him that he did “not want to get into relational issues” between Coleman and the new co-worker.

On March 18, Probst alleges in the suit, he met with the diocesan chancellor and again reported the incidents. The lawsuit says the chancellor tried to discourage Probst from filing an internal complaint and told him he could lose his job if he followed through with it.

According to the lawsuit, Probst then provided the chancellor with a copy of a computer “screen capture” of his co-worker’s email that was left open on the archives computer. The chancellor forwarded the document to the diocese’s human resources director, the lawsuit says.

After that, the lawsuit alleges, Probst was ostracized by co-workers and priests in the chancery office.

Probst was dismissed on June 30, according to the lawsuit. He was told that his position was being eliminated because of a lack of funding. The diocese then hired a less-qualified female employee to work part time in the archives beginning July 1, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit is alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and sex discrimination and seeks back pay and other damages.

This was the second lawsuit to focus on the conduct of a member of the diocesan Marriage Tribunal, which handles annulments. In addition to his duties as archivist, Coleman serves as the adjutant judicial vicar on the tribunal.

In September, another priest on the tribunal, the Rev. Joseph Matt, was sued by a Missouri man who alleged that Matt fathered a child with the man’s wife. That suit is pending.

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com.

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