Roger Dermody, one of four employees who as of June 1, is “no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency,” has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Presbyterian Church (USA), alleging that the denomination “repeatedly and falsely published that [he] had engaged in ‘unethical’ conduct while an employee of the PCUSA.”
The lawsuit contends that the “PCUSA’s investigation uncovered nothing to dispute any of the facts described by Dermody … and nothing to suggest that Dermody did anything ‘unethical.’”
However, the denomination repeatedly “published false statements about Dermody’s alleged misconduct, and failed and refused to correct those statements after the PCUSA found no support for them, all of which caused Dermody great injury.”
“The PCUSA’s statements were false and defamatory,” the lawsuit read, and have caused Dermody “substantial embarrassment and shame” as well as compromising his “future employment and financial prospects.”
Dermody is seeking a trial by jury, a judgment against the PCUSA for defamation, an award of compensatory damages to compensate him for “public embarrassment and humiliation,” and compensation for the adverse effects on his future career and earnings.
He is also seeking punitive damages to “punish the PUSA and to deter it and others from engaging in similar conduct, for exposing Dermody to public hatred, ridicule, contempt or disgrace or inducing an evil opinion of him in the minds of right-thinking people.”
New non-profit formed
Dermody and three other PMA employees were put on paid leave on Nov. 15, 2014, following an internal investigation which revealed the formation – without proper authorization – of an independent non-profit organization called Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovation, Inc. (PCNCI). It was created to help expedite the work of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement in California.
One of the identified staff incorporated PCNCI, another applied for the $100,000 grant from 1001 New Worshiping Communities, and the others are in supervisory roles where oversight was expected.
Filed May 29 in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville, Ky., the lawsuit stated that Dermody did not know that other PCUSA employees had “improperly created, incorporated and funded an independent non-profit organization to facilitate PCUSA-approved ministry work rather than work through authorized PCUSA corporations and bank accounts,” and that he had no part of any of those actions.
According to Dermody’s lawsuit, PCNCI was created in December, 2013 by “a California-based PMA staff member, and one of more other PMA staff members” to facilitate the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement. Dermody received no notification of these actions and did not give permission for any of the actions to take place.
The lawsuit states that the external investigation found no evidence that Dermody knew of, or played any part in, the incorporation of the PCNCI or the transfer of PCUSA to it. In fact, “the check that actually transferred funds to the inappropriate non-profit PCNCI account had been written to PCNCI and had been approved by the PMA Finance Department under the supervision of the PMA’s CEO.”
Once Dermody learned of the new outside organization in March, 2014, he “immediately joined with PCUSA’s legal counsel and human resources staff to recover all transferred funds, terminate the non-profit PCNCI’s unauthorized existence, and block a second transfer of grant funds.”
The lawsuits states that even though the “entire transaction was unwound and all funds were properly accounted for”, the PCUSA has spent more than $500,000 investigating the matter.
During a conference call with press representatives yesterday, PMAB Chair the Rev. Marilyn S. Gamm updated the costs to more than $850,000, but she said that figure does not include all of the fees from its current lawyer, John Sheller.
She also stated that the denomination has paid approximately $242,000 to the four employees involved in the investigation while they were on paid administrative leave from Nov. 15, 2014 until June 1, 2015.
The reason for the conference call was to notify the press that the four employees who had been under investigation for more than six months were “no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.” The employees included Dermody, who until yesterday was the deputy executive director for mission of the PMA, and
- Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
- Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth, and
- Craig S. Williams, staff person for the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development