Father, you kiss your mother with that mouth?
The recent dismissal of a lawsuit in New York — involving a priest who is principal at a Catholic high school — illustrates why an (alleged) “equal opportunity offender” is better than a discriminatory one.
But that’s not to say it’s good.
Father Michael Reilly — as well as his school, the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Father Reilly’s two alleged “henchmen” — were sued by a guidance counselor and two teachers for harassment and discrimination based on age and sex under the New York Human Rights Law, and for defamation.
(WARNING: If you expect priests to conduct themselves a certain way, you may be unpleasantly surprised at what follows.)
Among other things, the lawsuit alleged that Fr. Reilly did the following:
*Used the “F” word — all the flippin’ time.
*Referred to individual women as “bi*ches” and “tw*ts,” and to women collectively as a “tw*teria.”
*Said that he would kick an African-American teacher “back to the jungle.”
*Said that he would kick an employee with cancer “to the f***ing curb.”
*Said about an older employee who was ill and later died, “F*** crusty, she’s a vodka-shi**ing bi*ch that we don’t need.”
*Called an administrator a “fat fa**ot.”
There is a change.org petition signed by 2,192 people asking the Archdiocese to remove Father Reilly from his position.
Father Reilly denies having said any of these things.
Because the motion to dismiss was filed at the very beginning of the lawsuit, the court had to assume that everything alleged by the plaintiffs was true.
The defamation claim — based on Fr. Reilly’s loudly asking the guidance counselor whether he was a pedophile — was not valid, the judge said, because the priest was not saying the guidance counselor was a pedophile but only asking. (Long story, but it makes sense in context.)
As far as the harassment and discrimination claims, the court found that there was no evidence that Fr. Reilly discriminated against women or older employees — if the allegations in the lawsuit were to be believed, he treated everybody equally badly. The court said,
Although plaintiffs’ main allegations may demonstrate that Father Reilly has made numerous crude, vulgar, insensitive and prejudiced remarks against all types of people and that he may not always demonstrate the morals and principles aligned with a well-respected Catholic institution [EDITOR’S NOTE: Ya think?], the law does not impose liability upon him based on the allegations set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaints.
Since the defendants won dismissal of the lawsuit, that means Father’s alleged behavior is A-OK, right? Wrong. First, I would hope that employers wouldn’t want anyone in a position of authority conducting himself or herself the way that the plaintiffs alleged. Not so hot for employee morale, and it could make it very difficult for the school to attract and retain good faculty and staff. Second, it’s not good from a purely legal or economic standpoint, either. The alleged behavior dragged Father, his school, his bosses, and two employees who reported to him, through the embarrassment, stress, and expense of a lawsuit. And the plaintiffs say they will appeal the court’s decision, so it may not be over.
In short, “equal opportunity offender” is a good legal defense, but it’s no way to run a workplace.