Employee Discipline and Termination - Part 5: Passing On Information
There are many tough aspects to a child sexual abuse investigation within an organization. One of them is the level of accountability religious organizations can incur if a perpetrator goes on to abuse other children. If an organization knows or suspects a problem in that area, and lets the person go, but doesn't share that information with the next religious employer, it could be liable. One of the common critiques in the Catholic sexual abuse scandal was that abusing pastors got reassigned to different parishes.
You can check out a blog post I did recently, called "Passing on the Pastor." I write about an unpublished court opinion where a church let a youth pastor go for suspicious though not necessarily abusive behavior. He ended up molesting children while working for the religious organization's district council, which got pulled into the lawsuit based on what the previous senior pastor knew.
Of course, as a religious organization rightly recognizes, if it goes around telling everyone the reasons it fired someone, it is risking a defamation lawsuit. Sharing that information is counter-intuitive in the employment law context. This is a tough call. If the organization says and does nothing, it may be vouching for the person, especially if the person's religious credentials are not taken away. And if it knows information that would protect children and doesn’t share it, how much moral responsibility does it bear?
The answer is that old legal saw, “It depends.” The organization probably needs to put out some warnings, at least within its own religious circles and to appropriate authorities if that is relevant. Fortunately, some religious constitutional protections also exist for it to do so. What a religious organization says and how it says it must be carefully managed, preferably with an attorney familiar with both religious law protections and child sexual abuse issues.
If you think this situation might apply to you, contact your legal counsel to help work through the delicate balance of issues.
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Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion
Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations