by Andrew D. Beadle
February 5, 1997
Three former employees of Montrose Christian School in Rockville are suing the school, claiming they were unfairly fired last year because they did not belong to the proper church.
The school fired the two secretaries and a cafeteria worker June 13 because they were not members of the affiliated church, Montrose Baptist, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court Jan. 28.
"This is a good case," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, which filed the suit on behalf of the women.
Attempts to contact the school principal, Greg Scheck, also named in the suit, were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact the school's attorney.
Sharon M. Walsh of Woodbine was a secretary at the school for nearly 14 years, Mary Louise Jones of Rockville was a secretary for about 17 years, and Helen E. Poole of Bethesda worked in the cafeteria for about seven years, before they were fired, according to court documents.
The three are seeking their old jobs, along with full back pay and unspecified damages.
Montgomery County code prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on religion, unless the employee performs purely religious functions, according to the lawsuit.
"We certainly would agree that a religious school can have teachers who believe in what they are teaching," Spitzer said. In the case of the three women, however, "there's no religious instruction here."
The dismissals came shortly after Scheck became principal last June. In addition to the three women in the suit, all other employees who were not members of the church were dismissed, except for janitorial staff, the documents say.
Also, according to the court records, school by-laws did not require secretaries and cafeteria employees to belong to the church.
The women have filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, the suit says, which is required in order to file in Circuit Court.
All complaints before the commission are confidential, and the commission would not confirm if the case was filed.
However, the commission drops any investigation into a case that is filed later in Circuit Court.
"We don't have the parties pursuing action in two different forums," said Michael Dennis, the commission's compliance director. "If the court has made a decision, we would not resolve that issue."
The suit also noted that all three women belong to churches. Walsh and Jones are Catholic and Poole is Methodist.
Reprinted from Friday's Montgomery Gazette.