Legal Trends Newsletter – June 2013

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Legal Trends Spotlights Lawsuits Sexual Abuse Claims and New Retaliatory Discharge Case.

In this issue of Legal Trends, we discuss a number of different sexual abuse lawsuits that have arisen as well as a recent interesting retaliatory discharge case.

Tort Law

Joliet Archdiocese Rocked by Five New Sexual Abuse Cases.

While it appeared in the last few years that the number of claims against religious institutions had died down, that no longer appears to be the case.

In mid-May, the Diocese of Joliet was sued by five alleged victims of sexual abuse at the hands of four priests and a lay teacher. The plaintiffs claim that they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

Three anonymous plaintiffs and two named plaintiffs contend that Myles White, Michael Gibbney, Fred Lencyzcki, and James Nowak, all former priests, were the perpetrators. White is deceased while the others were removed from ministry between 1992 and 2012. The lawsuit contends that the victims were between the ages of 8 and 16 at the time, and that the abuse occurred at St. Boniface Church in Monee, St. Francis Assisi Church, St. Dominic Church in Bolingbrook, and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Joliet. Lencyzcki was previously convicted of sexual abuse charges and served five years in prison. Gibbney was previously alleged to have sexually abused children, but on two separate occasions, the claims were dismissed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Nowak was removed from ministry in August, 2012 after an allegation surfaced that he sexually abused someone 25 years before. White has been convicted of sex crimes in both Illinois and Indiana and drew 4 year sentences. He was also alleged to have sexually abused children in four separate lawsuits, which were all settled by late, 1995. When White was initially arrested, he was caught trying to destroy pictures of young boys.

In four of the present claims, the plaintiffs claim that that they repressed the memories of sexual abuse and did not recover them until recently. While normally a claim that arose decades earlier would be time barred due to the statute of limitations, that would not be the case where the memories were repressed or suppressed. Under those circumstances, the plaintiff would not be fully aware of his claim and would not be able to bring it earlier.

Recently, the Joliet Diocese released 7,000 records concerning its dark past. Among the records released was an arrest report of Reverend William Virtue. Virtue was arrested after he took a 10 year old boy to a quarry. He was carrying two six packs of beer. He fled when the police arrived, but was never charged. The Joliet Diocese placed the report in his personnel file, which already contained allegations of inappropriate behavior with other underage boys. The report, however, remained virtually unnoticed for 20 years while Virtue continued to minister. Even after U.S. Bishops in 2002 adopted new guidelines for the protection of children, the Joliet Diocese did not bother to review Virtue’s file. Virtue was removed from ministry in 2006.

The records reveal that the Diocese did not place the interests of children over its own priests. In 2003, Bishop Imesch sent a letter to Lenczycki, stating that “I can certainly understand your feelings about not being able to function as a priest. That must be very painful. It seems clear that you will not be allowed to serve as a priest in the future, even though I believe you are not a threat to anyone.”

Chicago Jesuits Pay Record $19.6 Million to Settle Sex Abuse Claims.

In perhaps the largest per plaintiff payout in the church sexual abuse scandal, the Chicago Jesuits attempted to put behind them an ugly chapter in their history.

In the suit which was recently settled, the plaintiffs alleged that Donald McGuire was the individual who sexually abused them. An even more disturbing allegation, however, was that a number of Jesuit superiors kept McGuire’s crimes a secret, which purportedly allowed the former priest to abuse others. The lawyers for the plaintiffs have identified 28 men who have claimed abuse at the hands of McGuire.

The first claim of sexual abuse involving McGuire was filed in 2003. The plaintiff contended that the

former priest molested and beat him more than 100 times. When another victim came forward, he contacted prosecutors in Wisconsin. The state prosecuted McGuire and convicted him in 2006 for crimes that occurred between 1966 and 1968. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison. While his sentence was initially postponed, federal authorities charged him with violating his probation for travelling internationally to engage in sexual misconduct with a minor.

It was discovered in 1991 that a boy from Anchorage expressed concern about having to sleep in the same room with McGuire. A Jesuit superior found it “imprudent, perhaps much more serious.” Two years later, another memo was created stating that during a trip, McGuire was taking showers with boys and reading hard pornography.

Hollander Law Offices Files Three New Sexual Abuse Cases Against Archdiocese of Chicago.

In the October, 2012 issue of Legal Trends, we reported then that our office filed a lawsuit on behalf of two victims against the Archdiocese of Chicago for sexual abuse involving Father Daniel McCormack. Since that time, we have filed three additional lawsuits for claims of sexual abuse. These plaintiffs allege that McCormack victimized them while they were involved in after school programs at St. Agatha’s church in Chicago. Similar to the earlier filed claims, we anticipate that it will take two years before the claims come up for trial.

Employment Law

Federal Judge Allows Retaliatory Discharge Case to Proceed Against Steelmaker.

Howard Dean Beers was the Purchasing Manager for a division of Milwaukee-based E.R. Wagner in Brookfield, Wisconsin. The plaintiff contended that executives notified managers that it was going to provide industrial customers with stainless steel that had two percent less nickel than the steel currently used. According to Beers, executives told managers not to tell the customers about the change.

The plaintiff contended that the company fired him after he told executives that the new steel was more corrosive than the current steel and that failing to tell the customers would be deceitful. Beers claimed that the practice violated a number of state laws. The company sought to have the case thrown out, but the Court declined, reasoning that Beers’ actions invoked several state laws.

Illinois is an employment at-will state, meaning that generally, an employer may fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all. Exceptions to that rule involve anti-discrimination laws and claims for retaliatory discharge. Under the latter, an employer cannot fire an individual for pursuing protected activity as defined by Illinois law. The most classic example involves firing a worker who files a worker’s compensation claim.

Office News

Recently, Gina Smith left our office to become a Director of Human Resources for a company in Indiana. In an interesting sliding door event, we hired her husband, Bradley Smith, to take over her job. Brad looks forward to the opportunity to litigate a wide variety of civil claims.