Florida state panel: diocese likely discriminated against Hispanic employees

by Tom Gallagher

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What makes this story especially newsworthy is that parishes and dioceses around the country, like the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., are also downsizing whether due to a lack of priests or a lack of money and need to be cognizant of discrimination issues. The leadership in the Diocese of St. Augustine most likely did not intend to discriminate against Hispanic employees, but the impact of their decisions had the likely affect of discrimination, according to the Florida Commission on Human Rights. Of course, the diocese disputes the claim.

According to the Gainesville Sun:

The Diocese of St. Augustine likely discriminated against Hispanic employees in Gainesville who bore the brunt of last year's restructuring as a result of a budget shortfall, a state commission determined.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations found reasonable cause that the diocese, based in Jacksonville, discriminated against the employees based on national origin. The commission found no cause to complaints that the employees also faced age discrimination.

Records provided to The Sun show the commission found on behalf of two employees May 13, and attorney George Harth confirmed the same results for a third client. He said the commission told him about a fourth complainant, but he said he is not aware of the results of that case.

Other affected employees are not protected under civil rights laws because of exemptions for church ministerial workers, he said.

The commission does not confirm or comment on cases until they reach an official proceeding such as a court case, spokeswoman Leah Barber-Heinz said.

In a prepared statement, spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg said, "We [the Diocese of St. Augustine] dispute the conclusions made that discrimination occurred in any fashion. All personnel changes made at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center were made solely for the purpose of budgeting due to the financial condition of the parish — reflecting the poor economy."

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