Church Discrimination Investigation
They say they've been demoted because of their ethnicity and age. Four employees of the St. Augustine parish in Gainesville have filed state and federal complaints saying the church has discriminated against them. And a long-time parishioner has chosen to get involved.
Between July and October St. Augustine Church went through what the Diocese of Saint Augustine in Jacksonville call a reorganization, in order to solve their financial troubles. But some of the affected employees complained to the federal and state Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions. Now an investigation into their claims is underway.
George Harth said, "It seems unusual that almost all the pain went on Hispanics and other protected minorities."
Harth is a long time parishioner of the church and a tax attorney. He said when he realized most of the employees significantly affected by the staff reorganization were minorities, he felt compelled to be their voice. Especially since church rules prevent them from speaking to the media.
He said, "One of the people was demoted from full time with benefits to five hours a week. One of the people was demoted from a managerial position to a entry level position with a drop in pay and other benefits. One of the people had their hours cut and their job almost doubled."
Before these changes the employees said the diocese requested a list of employees with the information age and race from the parish. Harth said, "It concerns me that they would want the race and age and then next thing would happen would be all the people let go would be elderly or minorities."
But Diocese spokesperson Kathleen Bagg said there was no special request for the information because it is already available to the diocese as a part of each employee's file and that reorganization was for financial reasons.
Bagg said, "The decisions that were made by Father Ruchinski and a select committee that he put together of parish lay leaders they made decisions based on the needs of the parish and they were not influenced by race, sex or age."
However Harth and his clients don't believe that's true. Harth said although this is a painful process, it has to be made right somehow. By legal means if necessary. He said, "What I'm hoping is it will settle and my people will get back their jobs and be taken care of before that."
The Diocese of St. Augustine encompasses 17 counties of Northeast and North Central Florida. According to their 2010 financial statement, they had a gain of $8 million last year.
The EEOC is conducting their investigation into the employees complaints. Then they will either choose to file against the church or to dismiss the claim.
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