Church leaded glass

A Los Angeles judge Thursday sounded skeptical about the allegations of a former employee of a Catholic church in Westlake Village who is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging she was fired for reporting covert cash payments to employees.

“There is nothing illegal about paying someone in cash,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Rico said of the legal theories of plaintiff Denise Cortes’ attorneys. “We do it every day.”

The judge called the plaintiff’s attorneys arguments a “scattered approach to find triable issues.” He took under submission a defense motion to dismiss the case.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles attorney Linda Miller Savitt said the defense provided actual proof to refute Cortes’ allegations. On the other hand, Cortes’ lawyers have only offered speculation to support her claims, said Savitt, who told the judge that the plaintiff’s deposition testimony contradicted what she later said in a declaration.

“This is all made-up baloney,” Savitt said.   Cortes, hired in 1981 by the archdiocese, served as confirmation director for 14 years at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church, according to her lawsuit filed in June 2014. The 59-year-old plaintiff alleges she found out in 2013 that the church’s business administrator, who was her boss along with Pastor James Stehly, was paying employees “under the table” and that Stehly did nothing when she complained.

A month later, Stehly, the business administrator, and a deacon began shunning and ignoring Cortes, who was demoted, suffered a deduction in pay and lost all her benefits, the suit alleges.

When she began her job as confirmation at the church in 2000, the pastor at the time assured her she would always have a salary and benefits there so long as she did a good job, according to her lawsuit.

For years, Cortes says she counted parishioners’ Sunday donations. But in the fall of 2013, she alleges she saw the business administrator fill two envelopes with $50 and $100 bills from the Sunday collections before they could be counted.

After Cortes asked what was being done with the money, the business administrator replied that she paid the church’s music director “under the table” every week and that she sometimes did the same with the director’s assistant, according to the complaint.

The business manager also told Cortes to give any large bills from the Sunday collections to her, the suit alleges.

Cortes, unable to accept her pay cut and loss of benefits, offered her resignation in February 2014 and offered to work an additional four months, but was fired at the end of that month, the suit states.

–City News Service

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