The pastor of a La Mirada Catholic church testified Friday that he was not serious when he asked the then-principal of the parish school in 2014 if she was coming back in two weeks within her announcement of being pregnant.
“I said it in a joking way,” the Rev. Joseph Visperas told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury tasked with deciding the merit of a lawsuit brought by former St. Paul of the Cross Catholic School Principal Bobbie Castillo.
Visperas is the pastor of the adjacent St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church and was Castillo’s supervisor at the time, according to her lawsuit filed in October 2015. The 38-year-old plaintiff maintains she was fired from the school in March of that year because of her pregnancy and for exposing misconduct by others at the school.
Lawyers for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles say she lost her job for allegedly plagiarizing a self-study book she presented as part of the requirements for the school’s accreditation renewal.
Castillo was hired as a seventh-grade teacher at the school in 2007 and was promoted to principal by Visperas four years later, according to the archdiocese’s court papers. Prior to her maternity leave from October 2014 to January 2015 while she was principal, she also took a similar amount of time for a maternity leave in 2009 while she was a teacher, the archdiocese’s court papers state.
In her testimony, Castillo said she was worried about Visperas’ 2014 remark about her pregnancy because it occurred in March, the month principals are typically presented with contract proposals for the next school year. She said she never received a contract until the following February, after she returned from maternity leave.
But Visperas testified that he told Castillo in the spring of 2014 that she would be given a contract for the 2014-15 school year. Asked by Castillo’s lawyer, Melissa Cardenas, if Castillo asked for a written contract on or about March 2014, Visperas replied, “She may have asked me for a contract, but since we were busy and friends, I said let’s do that later.”
The lawsuit alleges that Visperas expressed a desire to have Castillo leave as principal and that he looked through her office while she was on leave. But Visperas denied both assertions. He also said that contrary to Castillo’s testimony, he did not ask her when she returned from maternity leave if she was going to have more children.
Castillo maintains she was wrongfully fired because she had gotten pregnant and due to her reporting of alleged misconduct by others at the school, including the charging of parents for their unworked bingo game hours and the presence of a dart board in a nun’s office that had sexually oriented writings on it.
Visperas said he did not see the dart board until he was shown an image of it during his deposition testimony. He said Castillo told him she believed the dart board was inappropriate. But he added that the teacher responsible for the game said she used it to teach the children about the saints of the Catholic Church.
Archdiocese attorneys maintain in their court papers that Castillo was let go because a comparison of the self-study book with that of a neighboring parish showed that many sections were identically worded and that the plaintiff had committed plagiarism. But Castillo’s court papers state she was in labor when the book was turned in and that there is no evidence she drafted the allegedly copied portions.