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Domestic Violence Victim Suing Catholic Diocese For Breach Of Contract

Evening Edition

Aired 9/10/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Carie Charlesworth, former elementary school teacher at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon.

Rachael Langston, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center.


Statement From The Roman Catholic Diocese

"The opportunity to explain in court the issues surrounding the non-renewal of Mrs. Charlesworth’s annual employment agreement will allow both the school community and Mrs. Charlesworth a chance to bring closure to the extraordinary media attention that has been generated by her position. We are confident that when the court is able to review the decision, the protection and safety of children will be understood as the only path the school could have taken."

Thomas Beecher

Director, Office for Schools

A woman who suffers domestic violence, leaves her husband, gets a divorce and files a restraining order against her ex-husband is generally acknowledged to be a brave survivor. But at one El Cajon school, such a woman is also known as unemployed.

Last week, Carie Charlesworth filed suit against Holy Trinity Catholic School for breach of contract. She says the school broke Canon Law when it did not renew her teaching contract. That happened in April after her physically abusive ex-husband came to the school. Administrators said he was a threat to the children.

The Charlesworth lawsuit arises at a time the state of California is trying to stop domestic violence victims from losing their jobs due to the actions of their abusive spouses. Senate Bill 400 will be up for a vote in the state senate tomorrow. The bill would protect employment rights of victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

The Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center said many of California's domestic violence victims lose their jobs. The organization's 2011 study found that 40 percent of domestic violence victims reported being fired or feared losing their job because of domestic violence.

Rachael Langston is a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center which supports SB 400.

“This legislation is essential for ensuring the safety of all employees in the workplace and for protecting the economic security of survivors of abuse," Langston said. "Without the means to support themselves and their children, survivors often feel they have no choice but to remain in a violent relationship.”

But the new law might not have protected Charlesworth. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that religious organizations can claim ministerial exception to exempt them from employment discrimination laws.

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Avatar for user 'Raisingphoenix'

Raisingphoenix | September 11, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

If this woman's husband was violent and threatening her on the school campus, don't you think she should have decided on her own to step down from her job to keep the children safe? If I was a parent at that school I would have called for her resignation in the interest of the safety of the students. How awful that she is a victim of domestic abuse, but what about the safety of the innocent children? The Diocese made the right decision, in my opinion.

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | September 11, 2013 at 12:29 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago


How do you justify punishing the victim?

The woman took all necessary legal steps, and her husband broke the law.

And if she did voluntarily resign, how would you expect her to make money? She can't go to a different school, according to your logic, because she would be a threat to those kids as well. Even if she switched jobs, it's not like adult co-workers can't feel threatened, too. So what do you suggest?

Not only are you being unrealistic, you're being unfair. Imagine if you were in her situation. What would you do?

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Avatar for user 'Raisingphoenix'

Raisingphoenix | September 12, 2013 at 8:57 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

It's an unfortunate situation. I am just thinking about the safety of the children.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | September 12, 2013 at 10:25 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I had a negative experience at St. John of the Cross K-8 School in Lemon Grove (but not Holy Trinity K-8 School in El Cajon) -- where the teacher with four children and their abusive father were placed on indefinite leave because the father poses a threat. I was a substitute teacher at the nearby (St. John's) school on the hottest day on record several years ago. So many regular teachers called in sick that I was asked (cancel that) I had to combine two eighth grade classes and follow two lesson plans simultaneously. You can't teach effectively under such circumstances, and the only way I and my charges could survive was to modify the lesson plans. I got a call from the Diocese of San Diego soon thereafter blaming me for the meager amount I'd been able to do under the circumstances.

Rather than apologize, I answered firmly: "Never call me in the future to teach at that school or any other school in the Diocese of San Diego." Many schools are named for saints. Intercessory prayer to saintly persons who've not yet been canonized is common practice in the Catholic Church. And evidence of miracles thus produced is presented as evidence in the process of beatification and canonization. In a court of law, this victim of domestic abuse might expect compensatory damages for her further victimization by her employer. Kudos for Steve Ososkie who resigned his Holy Trinity K-8 School Board position because of the Diocese's inappropriate response.

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | September 12, 2013 at 12:45 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

"It's an unfortunate situation. I am just thinking about the safety of the children."

Isn't that what the police are for?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | September 12, 2013 at 1:08 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

"I am just thinking about the safety of the children."

And I'm just thinking about the rights of adults not to be retaliated against in the workplace for something they didn't do.

I hope she wins this lawsuit.

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