Judge rules against former office manager in Napa church wrongful termination suit

Judge finds that former parish office manager at St. Apollinaris Church, who claimed she was fired after calling attention to the alleged misuse of church funds, failed to prove her dismissal was an act of retaliation

St. Apollinaris Church in Napa, California (image: stapollinarisparish.org)

A Sonoma County Superior Court judge has ruled against a former parish office manager at St. Apollinaris Church in Napa who claimed she was fired after calling attention to the misuse of church funds.

In a tentative ruling issued earlier this month, Judge Allan Hardcastle found that Jo Savage, an employee of St. Apollinaris for 28 years, had failed to show that her termination on May 7, 2015 was a retaliatory response to allegations she made against St. Apollinaris’ Father William Donahue.

The day before her termination, Savage met with Monsignor Daniel Whelton, the vicar of priests for the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, of which the Napa parish is a member. But Hardcastle said attorneys for Savage could not show a “causal link” between the meeting and the firing.

“There was no evidence or testimony indicating Father Donahue had knowledge of any of Plaintiff Savage’s complaints or concerns, which she had raised with others in the Diocese,” wrote Hardcastle.

Church officials, in a countersuit, accused Savage of gross negligence in caring for parish accounts. They said Savage was responsible for causing tax penalties of $70,000 and that she paid her personal credit card with parish funds without explanation.

The church alleged that Savage failed to require documents from her daughter in support of about $270,000 in expenses for the youth ministry.

For her part, Savage claimed that Donahue remodeled certain areas of the rectory without the “proper permits and without using a licensed or certified contractor,” violating “fire, building and/or safety codes” and hiring an unqualified principal for the parish school, according to Hardcastle’s ruling.

But Hardcastle found that Savage was unable to meet the burden of proof required by the state’s whistle-blower statute and that Donahue “had clear and convincing legitimate business reasons for terminating Plaintiff’s Savage’s employment.” Severe differences between Savage and Donahue combined with Savage’s “work performance led to her termination,” Hardcastle wrote.

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  1. And the message here is . . . ? Sounds like she simply failed to prove her case. As an example, lack of building permits seems, on first appearances, seems a factual ‘yes or no’ issue. Wouldn’t the apppropriate government agency have a record of the permit, if one existed???

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