A judge has granted the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s motion for summary judgment in the defamation case filed by former employee Roger Dermody.
On Sept. 21, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Judith E. McDonald-Burkman ruled that “after a careful review of the record, applicable law and the Court being otherwise sufficiently advised, IT is hereby ordered and adjudged that Defendant Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted. Plaintiff Roger Dermody’s Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
The court’s ruling was announced today at the closing of the Presbyterian News Agency Board’s meeting, by Chair Marilyn Gamm. She said that the board’s attorney had received the ruling that morning.
Dermody could not be reached for comment, or if he plans to appeal the ruling. Another defamation lawsuit filed by Eric Hoey against the PMAB hasn’t been decided yet.
Dermody filed a defamation suit against the PCUSA on May 29, alleging that the denomination “repeatedly and falsely published that [he] had engaged in ‘unethical’ conduct while an employee of the PCUSA.”
In her ruling, McDonald-Burkman found that:
“Dermody’s claim is based on PCUSA allegedly informing people outside of the governing body of the church that Dermody had committed ethical violations. Dermody was found to have violated PCUSA’s ethics policies in the October 2014 written warning. Dermody objected to that finding, but signed the warning. That he disagrees with the outcome of the internal investigation does not negate the fact that he was found to have committed ethics violations. Therefore, PCUSA’s statements to that affect are true.
“To overcome the truth of PCUSA’s statements, the Court would be required to determine if Dermody had in fact committed ethics violations. This would necessitate interpreting church doctrine and policies, which is impermissible under the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine.”
The defamation suit
Dermody’s lawsuit contended “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 defamation lawsuit read, and caused Dermody “substantial embarrassment and shame” as well as compromising his “future employment and financial prospects.”
Dermody sought 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.
Dermody was the deputy executive director for mission of the PMA. The other three employees who lost their jobs were:
- 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
- Dermody files lawsuit: PCUSA statements were fales and defamatory.
- Craig Williams responds to 1001 announcement
- Why wasn’t Linda Valentine’s resolution good enough in the 1001 debacle?
- 4 employees ‘no longer with’ PMA following 1001 investigation; Defamation lawsuit filed
- Read the judge’s ruling here.
- Read Dermody’s complaint here.