Ex-St. Malachy administrator sues for defamation

By Steve Bauer
The News-Gazette
April 29, 2009

RANTOUL A former development director at St. Malachy School is suing the local priest and diocese for defamation of character.

Carolyn L. Taylor worked as an administrator for the Catholic grade school in Rantoul.

Her suit, filed Friday by Washington, D.C., attorney Gregory K. Smith, claims defamation by the Rev. Stephen Engelbrecht, the St. Malachy parish priest, along with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

The diocese did not return calls seeking comment.

The suit is asking more than $50,000 plus punitive damages, costs and attorney fees, for two counts of defamation.

Taylor, 70, said she worked for St. Malachy School for more than 30 years, except for a brief period when her husband, Richard, got a job in another state.

"When we came back and there was an opportunity the job came open I went back," Taylor said.

Taylor said she returned to the private school in 1993 and worked there until last year. She declined to comment further.

According to the lawsuit, from 1983 until May 2008, except for the brief period when she temporarily moved to another state, Taylor worked as business manager and then director of development for St. Malachy School.

Taylor's suit said she raised about $5 million for a school renovation and expansion and listed management of resulting construction projects as one of her major accomplishments. The suit also said that "without exception and over the entire tenure of her service," she received the highest marks possible on her annual performance evaluations.

However, on May 30, 2008, Engelbrecht called her into his office and immediately offered her a choice of resignation or termination, according to the lawsuit.

The suit said Taylor was startled and confused and asked why. The choice was stated again by Engelbrecht, who added, "because of the report from the recent audit," the suit said.

When Taylor was not willing to resign, she was fired, the suit claimed.

Taylor's husband later that day delivered a letter to the school requesting a copy of her personnel file, the suit said.

According to the lawsuit, Engelbrecht told others that he fired Taylor "because of the audit report."

But, according to the suit, no such audit report exists. Taylor said a St. Malachy trustee and an attorney for the diocese allegedly admitted there was no audit. The lawyer for the diocese also allegedly said that Engelbrecht's actions against Taylor were covered by diocesan procedures and "duly authorized by Bishop Jenky."

The suit said Engelbrecht made the false statements in full awareness of how third parties would interpret them and that he did so with prior knowledge of and reckless disregard for the falsity of the statements. It also claims he acted with malice.

The statements hurt Taylor's reputation, intentionally interfered with her future employment and caused loss of income, embarrassment and emotional distress, according to the suit.

Smith, who grew up in the Rantoul area and attended St. Malachy School, said Engelbrecht's actions against Taylor appear to be malicious.

He said the lawsuit was the "last option made available to us" and was "very disappointing" for Taylor, who has lifetime connections to the parish and diocese. Smith said Taylor built a reputation for "integrity and selfless acts" for both the parish and diocese.

"To fire this woman the way he did, under the cloud he created knowingly, is difficult to explain," Smith said.


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