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Telios Teaches

We're launching a series of training courses on sexual harassment training for your church or ministry!

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Space Available in Telios Law Building

Join Telios Law in a landmark building at the top of Monument Hill.

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Upcoming Events: Seminars and Webinars

• November 14-15, 2018 - Psychoeducational and Spiritual Needs of Missionary Kids (see flier and brochure)

• December 12, 2018 - Preventing Sexual Harassment and Other Problems: An Employment Law Primer for Ministries

Subscribe to  Ministry Law Emails for updates about seminars.

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About Telios Law

Telios Law is a Colorado law firm serving religious ministries, individuals, and businesses across the Front Range and beyond, including internationally, representing them in complex situations, litigation, appeals, and alternatives to litigation.

Our firm name reflects our approach to legal practice. “Telios” means “complete, perfect, or whole," and it is related to the word for finishing or completing. “Telios” defines successful results in terms of being complete, whole, or mature. Excellent legal work is important, but wasted unless it makes your business, personal life, or ministry more whole and helps you achieve your vision more perfectly. Legal services are expensive, and legal conflict has high costs financially and otherwise. Telios Law helps you consider whether legal solutions help bring completeness in your business, ministry, or personal life, and which legal solutions are likely to reach your desired end.

Telios Law’s religious organizations and secular corporate practice ranges from advising on legal and policy issues—with a special emphasis on First Amendment policies, international law, crisis management, child protection policies and practices, and employment—to assisting with internal investigations, business disputes, and litigation defense. Our business litigation practice includes appellate law, usually as appellate co-counsel with other attorneys who have served as trial counsel. Through our civil rights litigation practice, Telios Law also advocates for equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities, assists children and families with special needs, and holds the government accountable when individual rights are infringed.

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Case Exposes 12 Reasons to Have an Adequate Investigative Process

Recently, a court has allowed to go forward most of a case against the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco.[1] The court did not allow the Archdiocese to claim religious law protections.

The case alleges that a female teacher was sexually harassed by students at a Catholic boys’ high school. The teacher taught biology and also was involved in campus ministry. Supposedly, the all-boys school had a long history of sexual harassment of women teachers, including taking up-skirt photos, graphic cell phone messages, threatening phone calls, and other inappropriate actions. These actions involved the plaintiff and other female teachers. 

The case alleges that the school did not investigate sufficiently, including: did not contact police soon enough; did not seriously address offensive and sexually violate graffiti; did not deal sufficiently with student sexual references on social media (made them take it down and suspended them but did not determine if language was widespread); did not sufficiently question or examine students related to the upskirt photos incident (specifically, allowing students to delete photos or deny having photos and failing to order a forensic electronic investigation); possibly deleted or encouraged students to delete upskirt photos or videos; and inadequately investigated an upskirt photo competition.

The schools actually disciplined some students, but the question was whether it really dealt with widespread harassment. An expert report highlighted problems with investigations, including: violations of confidentiality; not properly interviewing witnesses; failing to corroborate allegations; failing to perceive patterns of misconduct; interviewing students over the phone; and failing to remember crucial details of the investigation.

The court refused to apply the ministerial exception defense at this stage, because there were disputed issues of fact about whether the teacher was a minister. The court also refused to apply First Amendment protections, since the claims were purely secular. The court did not find any formal religious decision-making process. 

Although there was a dispute resolution agreement between the teacher and school, it did not contain a clear waiver of the right to bring a lawsuit, so the court refused to enforce it. 

Overall, the court is allowing the case to go forward. This doesn’t mean that the plaintiff will win, but does mean that the Archdiocese has to keep litigating.

Twelve lessons can be learned here?

1. If there could be a crime, work with the authorities where appropriate. It is better to err on the side of taking allegations too seriously than not seriously enough.

2. The appearance of lying or destroying evidence should trigger further investigation of the individuals who have done (or may have done) that.

3. Avoid any appearance of encouraging anyone to destroy evidence.

4. Investigations should guard confidentiality appropriately.

5. If there is good indication that witnesses might have information, they should be interviewed, especially in cases that allege widespread wrongdoing.

6. Avoid phone interviews, which are not ideal, particularly for important witnesses.

7. Keep track of the details of the investigation, being thorough in both investigations and in record-keeping.

8. If personnel are not trained to do investigations professionally, consider bringing in an outside investigator.

9. Where electronic data is involved, use professional forensic analysis.

10. Draft job descriptions that carefully define who is a minister.

11. Define the religious grounding for your decision-making process and/or appeal.

12. Draft dispute resolution agreements that are specific in waiving lawsuits, and make sure personnel specifically read and agree to them.


End Note:
1. Bohnert v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, No. 14-cv-02854 (N.D. Cal. Sep. 25, 2015).

Featured image: Untitled by Morgue File

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