Local News Spotlight

KC Diocese settles two cases from stack of civil lawsuits

Updated: 2012-10-22T03:40:52Z

By JUDY L. THOMAS

The Kansas City Star

Two civil lawsuits filed against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph — one claiming sexual harassment and another alleging wrongful dismissal — have been settled.

The lawsuits are among about 30 that have been filed against the diocese in the last two years and are the first to be settled. Most of the lawsuits allege sexual abuse by priests.

The diocese and the plaintiffs were tight-lipped about the cases.

“Both cases have been resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction,” said Rebecca Randles, the Kansas City lawyer whose firm represents the plaintiffs.

Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith said: “Both of these cases have been resolved to the satisfaction of all of the parties.”

One lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court in October 2011 by Margaret Mata, a former independent contractor for the diocese. Mata alleged that the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn retaliated against her for her advocacy within the diocese on behalf of victims of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan — a priest who was facing child pornography charges — and for promoting changes in policies to prevent future child sexual abuse.

Mata said the diocese disabled her email, took away her laptop and confiscated her business cards, eventually making it impossible for her to do her job and forcing her to resign. She claimed retaliation, wrongful dismissal and invasion of privacy and asked for unspecified monetary damages.

The diocese issued a statement when the lawsuit was filed, saying that it “categorically denies it ever prevented Mata from performing any work that was within the scope of her agreement as a contract worker.”

The other lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in January by Larry Probst, a former worker at the diocesan archives. Probst alleged he was subjected to sexually offensive language, sexual advances and pornography on the computers at work, then dismissed after repeatedly complaining about it.

The suit also alleged that a new co-worker left sexually explicit email messages on the diocesan archives computer and that the messages were “obvious to anyone who entered the archives.”

In his lawsuit, Probst alleged sexual harassment, retaliation and sex discrimination and sought back pay and other damages.

The diocese said at the time that Probst’s part-time position was eliminated at the end of the diocesan fiscal year “solely for budgetary reasons.”

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

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