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Catholic Charities in the crossfire

Nonprofit must pay unemployment benefits

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Two women who six months ago accused Catholic Charities of gender discrimination say the nonprofit organization is now waging a fierce legal battle against them.

"It's been really ugly," said Diana Holland, one of the women. "They are trying everything they can to discredit us."

But the organization has so far been unsuccessful in challenging the women.

The charity last month lost its bid to deny Holland and Maelena West unemployment benefits in a hearing held by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The women were fired in March from their positions as operations managers at the Marian House Soup Kitchen, accused of "disrespectful and bullying behavior."

But a labor department hearing officer said the charity's assertions were based on hearsay documents and found the women had been fired because Catholic Charities did not get the results it wanted in a March 4 meeting meant to "clear the air" of employee grievances that were said to be brewing for months. West had been scolded by managers for comments made at the meeting but was merely voicing her opinions about work because managers told her to do so, the hearing officer found.

She "was not rude and offensive because of the context" in which the comments were made, the hearing officer wrote.

Catholic Charities declined to say if it would appeal the decision. "It's our policy not to discuss personnel matters," said Kurt Bartley, executive director of Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs Inc. Similarly, Bartley declined to discuss why the employees were fired.

After being fired from the soup kitchen, which currently provides about 450 meals a day, the women filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They said they tried for months before they were fired to get managers to sufficiently address their complaints about their direct supervisor, Frank Crosson, alleging he verbally abused them, slammed doors in their faces and unfairly reprimanded them.

"When we complained, we were seen as creating chaos," Holland said. "Men were listened to."

The Independent could not reach Crosson for comment.

If the EEOC finds the women's allegations credible, the finding will open the door for lawsuits. The women said they are pursuing the complaints to improve conditions for other women employed by Catholic Charities.

Both say they are saddened by the loss of their jobs.

"I'm devastated I don't have my job anymore," West said. "I still cry about it."

Holland is working as a customer service representative and earning, she said, thousands of dollars less annually than she was at the soup kitchen.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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