Church Wrongful Termination Suit in Sonoma County

After getting fired due to calling attention to the misuse of St. Apollinaris Church funds, 28-year former office manager of the church Jo Savage filed a wrongful termination suit but to no avail as the Sonoma County Superior Court judge ruled against it. The reason behind it is that according to Judge Allan Hardcastle, Jo Savage’s wrongful termination attorney failed to show that her termination was wrongful and because of the allegation she made against Father William Donahue. This information was revealed in a tentative ruling that took place sometime after the lawsuit was filed.

The day before she got fired, Savage met the vicar priests for the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa. However, the Sonoma County Superior Judge said her wrongful termination attorney could not show a “causal link” between the firing and the meeting. According to Hardcastle, there was neither a testimony nor evidence that indicates that Father Donahue of St. Apollinaris Church had knowledge of any of the Savage’s concerns or complaints, which she had raised with others in the diocese.

In a countersuit, church officials accused the former office manager of ignorance in caring for parish accounts. According to them, she was responsible for causing about $70,000 tax penalties and that she used parish funds to pay her personal card without any explanation. Furthermore, the church alleged that Savage also failed to require important documents from her daughter for the youth ministry.

Jo Savage on the other hand, claimed that Father Donahue altered certain areas of the rectory without proper permits and without using a certified or licensed contractor, hence violating fire, building, and safety codes. According to Hardcastle’s ruling, she also claimed that Donahue hired an unqualified principal for the parish school.

However, the Sonoma County Superior Court judge found that Savage couldn’t meet the burden of proof that is required by the whistle-blower law of the state and that Father Donahue had convincing and clear
legitimate business reasons for terminating the employment of Jo Savage. According to the judge, severe differences between Donahue and Savage combined with the work performance of Savage led to her termination.

The attorney for the diocese Adrienne Moran said that she was pleased with the tentative finding of the court. She stated that the judge Hardcastle essentially agreed with Donahue’s justification for firing Savage. She said that they are pleased with the tentative decision and that Donahue took his role as an agent of the parishioners’ funds very seriously and that his commitment to fiscal responsibility got supported by the court.

Savage also complained that she had been defamed by rumors spread by Father Donahue that she had been misusing parish funds. This complaint also got rejected by the court. According to judge Hardcastle, the origins of the rumors could not be tracked back to Father Donahue.

Savage’s wrongful termination attorney played down the tentative ruling of Hardcastle and stated that the tentative ruling by the court is not a final verdict or judgement in this case. The time period to object this ruling hasn’t expired yet and some of the issues were not addressed in the tentative ruling.