Court reinstates lawsuit vs Archdiocese of Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – A state appellate court Wednesday reinstated a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by a former janitor at a Maywood church who alleged she was forced to quit in 2019 due to emotional distress after an associate pastor groped her in the rectory and tried to coerce her into his bed.
In July 2022, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Christopher Lui granted judgment in favor of the archdiocese, affirming his ruling a month earlier dismissing the case brought by the Long Beach woman who worked as a custodian at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. The parish is adjacent to a school as well as a rectory that housed the living areas and offices of Pastor Dario Miranda and Associate Pastor Primitivo Gonzalez, the suit stated.
The suit also named the church and school as defendants, and the judge found that neither they nor the archdiocese were liable for the alleged abuse of the plaintiff by Gonzalez.
“The alleged conduct by Father Primitivo Gonzalez is reprehensible,” Lui wrote. “However, there is no evidence that he had a history of committing other acts of sexual assault or that there was a risk he would sexually assault plaintiff.”
But in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Luis Lavin, a three-justice panel of the Second District Court of Appeal reversed Lui’s ruling and sent the case back to him for trial. Lavin noted that the woman’s lawyers presented evidence from which a jury could find a “reasonable employee” who experienced such intolerable working conditions would be compelled to resign or stop working.
The plaintiff attended therapy sessions to address Gonzalez’s assault and the therapist eventually diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and placed her on a leave of absence, Lavin further wrote.
“In sum, triable issues exist as to whether defendants through Father Gonzalez’s sexual assault knowingly permitted or intentionally created intolerable working conditions that led to (the plaintiff’s) workplace disabilities that preclude her from returning to work,” Lavin wrote, adding, “as defendants concede, Father Gonzalez’s sexual assault itself surely constitutes an intolerable incident.”
But in his ruling dismissing the case, Lui wrote that Gonzalez completed the archdiocese’s background check and had no reported history of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct.
“Father Gonzalez had never come on to plaintiff prior to the date of the sexual assault,” the judge wrote.
According to the suit, on the morning of July 30, 2019, the plaintiff was directed to clean the parish rectory, including Gonzalez’s private living space. She was normally assigned to maintain only the school and church, but the employee who normally maintained the rectory was absent that day, the suit filed in December 2020 stated.
The plaintiff, who was unfamiliar with the rectory because she had not cleaned it before, encountered Gonzalez in the kitchen on the first floor and he showed her the various rooms, including his own quarters, composed of a bedroom with a private bathroom.
“I was standing when suddenly I felt that my wrist, that someone was touching my wrist,” the plaintiff stated in a deposition. “After that, I froze. I didn’t know who had grabbed my wrist. And then I turned around and his hands were touching my breast. I was walking backwards until I got stuck on the wall and I noticed that it was him and I just opened my mouth because I couldn’t believe that the priest was doing this.”
The woman further states that Gonzalez put both of his hands against the wall and that he “put his body very close to mine and he was touching me.
He wanted to kiss me and I was moving my head from one side to the other, and he would move his head from one side to the other doing the same thing that I was doing.”
The plaintiff said she “stepped on my tiptoes so that I could be a little bit taller than him so that he couldn’t kiss me, but he grabbed my neck.
He was breathing hard, and after that, he moved one of his hands away from the wall and he put my blouse down and my bra.”
The priest then said “Mamacita, I dreamed of you. Let’s go to bed,” according to the plaintiff.
The clergyman continued rubbing his body against hers, the plaintiff said.
“I couldn’t move,” she said “I couldn’t think at the moment.”
The plaintiff said she escaped from the bathroom, turned around and saw the priest following her and exposing himself. The plaintiff suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and her psychiatrist concluded she is permanently unfit to resume employment within the archdiocese, according to her court papers.
Gonzalez admitted his wrongdoing and the archdiocese reported the woman’s accusations to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers. Gonzalez was kept out of the ministry, moved to Northern California to live with his brother in August 2019 and died in December 2020 at age 83 of complications related to dementia, according to the archdiocese attorneys’ court papers.
The archdiocese said in a previous statement that the plaintiff was not forced to resign and has received compensation and medical support through the archdiocese’s workers compensation program. (CNS)