Sexual Harassment Lawsuit: Diocese of Stockton Begins a Legal Battle

In recent news, a lawsuit has been filed that alleges sexual harassment and retaliation by a pastor at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton. The pastor accused was placed on administrative leave after the lawsuit was filed.

The sexual harassment lawsuit was filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court and makes allegations that Monsignor Lawrence McGovern sent photographs described as “sexually explicit” to the victim. The victim was a pool maintenance contractor. When the pool maintenance contractor reported the incident, McGovern terminated his employment.

Legal representation for the victim, who is to remain unidentified, describes the situation as a class case of sexual harassment and retaliation. He stated that Monsignor McGovern texted a graphic photograph to the victim and then terminated the victim’s employment after the incident of the “lewd” photo was reported to the police. The victim’s representation also noted that while this conduct is a clear violation of the law when engaged in by any employer, it is particularly disturbing as this employer was a member of the clergy. When the victim asked McGovern why he sent the photograph by stating, “I thought you were celibate, Monsignor,” McGovern allegedly replied, “Celibate means not married.”

The diocese oversees Catholic parishes in multiple counties: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras and Tuolumne. The statement issued in response to the allegations was simply to announce that McGovern had been placed on administrative leave and that it was the first time they learned of employment related allegations against Monsignor McGovern, the Pastor of Presentation Parish in Stockton. It was also noted in the diocese’s statement that their decision to place Monsignor McGovern on administrative leave was in accordance with the Canon Law of the Church and that it was pending a full a complete investigation.

Over a period of 20 years, the diocese has paid $14 million in judgments, settlements and legal expenses in a variety of cases of clergy sexual abuse. In January 2014, the diocese filed for bankruptcy after paying out millions to settle years of child sex abuse lawsuits. McGovern served as vicar general of the diocese during a time when the diocese was inundated with sex abuse accusations and lawsuits. In fact, he served as a key witness in several cases against former priests Oliver O’Grady and Michael Kelly.

O’Grady served as the subject of a documentary entitled “Delivery Us From Evil.” He served time in prison for child molestation, was deported back to his native Ireland in 2001 and served more time there after being found with child pornography.

Kelly fled the states to his native Ireland in April 2012 after being found liable in a civil lawsuit of sexual abuse. The victim, Travis Trotter, was awarded a $3.75 million settlement. Kelly was later indicted by a grand jury on four counts of child sexual abuse prompting the judge to issue a $175,000 warrant for his arrest. He has not returned to face charges.

Monsignor McGovern stood as a witness for these men, denying any knowledge of sexual improprieties despite living with them for years and contrary to victim statements.

If you need to discuss potential sexual harassment charges or wrongful termination with an experienced employment law attorney in southern California, please get in touch with Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik as soon as possible.