Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 8, 2024


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C.A. Reinstates Constructive Termination Suit Against Archdiocese by Assaulted Employee


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday reversed a summary judgment granted to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a case in which a janitor was sexually assaulted by an associate pastor, and later sued for wrongful termination when she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and was unfit to continue in the job.

Committing the assault on Agustina Arellano was Father Primitivo Gonzalez, now deceased.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Lui found that the Archdiocese and the individual defendants did not “knowingly or intentionally create or permit intolerable working conditions,” leading to her diseases, because they had no knowledge of Gonzalez’s propensities and took action to remove him from the ministry when Arellano reported what had happened.

Lavin’s Opinion

Justice Luis Lavin of Div. Three wrote the unpublished opinion reinstating the action by Agustina Arellano, who claimed a constructive termination. He said:

“We conclude triable issues exist as to whether the sexual assault was sufficient to create intolerable working conditions and whether the associate pastor represented defendants such that they can be held liable for constructive termination.”

He said that although Gonzales’s authority at the parish was limited, the head pastor was travelling abroad at the time of the assault and that a jury could find that the parish was in the hands of Gonzales and another associate pastor, such that Gonzales could be found to have “effectively represented” defendants rather merely being an employee.

Causation Asserted

Lavin went on to say:

“Father Gonzalez admitted he assaulted Arellano, and Arellano presented evidence that the assault caused her work disabilities—i.e., her PTSD and depression diagnoses—that prevent her from returning to work at the Parish. Thus, there is, at minimum, a triable issue of fact as to whether Father Gonzalez intended to create the underlying working conditions—i.e., his sexual assault—that led to Arellano’s workplace disabilities that preclude her from returning to work.”

He continued:

“We also reject defendants’ argument that Arellano’s decision to continue to work for the Parish for several months after Father Gonzalez assaulted her forecloses any claim that defendants knowingly permitted the intolerable conditions that led to her work disabilities…..Arellano presented evidence from which a trier of fact could find Father Gonzalez, one of defendants’ representatives, intentionally created intolerable working conditions when he sexually assaulted her. She was not required to also show defendants knowingly permitted such conduct to occur.”

The case is Arellano v. Archdiocese of Los Angeles, B322877.


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