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Lawsuit accuses Hilton church school of labor law violations

Complaint claims program failed to follow state regs

By: Bennett Loudon//June 9, 2023

Lawsuit accuses Hilton church school of labor law violations

Complaint claims program failed to follow state regs

By: Bennett Loudon//June 9, 2023

A woman who was fired from her child-care job is suing her former employer for alleged violations of state labor law and human rights law.

The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Rochester by Fairport attorney J. Morgan Levy on behalf of plaintiff Therese I. Flannery seeks damages suffered by Flannery when St. Paul Lutheran Church and School, in Hilton, fired her allegedly because she complained to supervisors that some of their policies and practices violated state laws and regulations and she refused to participate in those policies.

The action also seeks damages for Flannery because St. Paul discriminated against her based on her gender “in connection with its knowledge she is a victim of sexual abuse.”

The lawsuit also seeks to recover unpaid wages.

Flannery, a resident of Hilton, was hired by St. Paul to work in the child-care program in the 2017-18 academic year.

St. Paul, located at 158 East Ave., in Hilton, offers several different programs for children of all ages.

Initially, Flannery was hired to be a teacher in the preschool/early start room. In the fall of 2019, Flannery also became co-director of St. Paul’s wraparound care program, which provides childcare during the hours immediately before and after school, according to the complaint.

Flannery claims that, despite New York state regulations that prohibit school-age children from mixing with children under age 3, St. Paul’s wraparound care program regularly allowed children as young as 2 to participate.

In December 2019, Flannery’s co-director left St. Paul and Flannery became sole director of the wraparound care program.

Flannery’s supervisors told her to sign a document indicating that she had received a copy of St. Paul’s employee handbook, the suit claims. But no employee handbook exists at St. Paul, so she refused to sign the acknowledgement.

Three days before Flannery was scheduled to begin as director of the wraparound care program for the 2022-23 academic year, she learned that St. Paul removed the cap on the number of children who could be enrolled in the program, according to the suit.

Instead of being responsible for 30 children in the program, which she expected, Flannery would be responsible for 54 children, mostly preschool aged, or younger, the suit claims.

Flannery complained to Principal David Spheiler and Vice Principal Jenn Dale that the program lacked appropriate staffing and space to meet New York state regulations, according to the lawsuit.

Spheiler and Dale told Flannery the program was not required to abide by New York state regulations, according to the suit.

Flannery worked as director of the program in September and October, but ultimately resigned from the position. But she continued in her role as teacher in the preschool/early start room.

In early February, Flannery learned the naptime policy for the preschool/early start room was changed without any notice to teachers or the families. Flannery asked for a meeting to discuss the issue with Spheiler, which took place on Feb. 7.

In addition to Flannery and Spheiler, Dale, and Denise Matula, St. Paul’s preschool director/teacher — Flannery’s immediate supervisor — were present at the meeting, according to the suit.

The naptime issue was not discussed at the meeting. Instead, Spheiler told Flannery she was “all about the money” because she expected to be paid for her time to attend this meeting, the suit claims.

Spheiler admonished her for being too “passionate” in the workplace, the complaint alleges.

Flannery said that, as a survivor of sexual abuse, “who was abused during a vulnerable time, like naptime, she may have been triggered to want to discuss the change in nap policy with the parents,” according to the complaint.

The suit claims Dale replied: “Don’t bring your fake triggers and your sexual abuse into this. You’re emotionally unstable and this is proof of this.”

Spheiler fired Flannery at the meeting, on Feb. 27. Flannery received her last paycheck from defendant on Feb.17, 2023, according to the suit.

“Defendant did not include a payout for plaintiff’s accrued sick and personal days,” the suit alleges.

Flannery has never received a written notice of termination, the suit claims.

New York State Labor Law “obligates employers to notify any employee terminated from employment, in writing, of the exact date of such termination as well as the exact date of cancellation of employee benefits connected with such termination. In no case shall notice of such termination be provided more than five working days after the date of such termination,” according to the complaint.

Andrew J. Ryan, who represents St. Paul Church and School, wrote in an email: “We are disappointed that she chose to file a lawsuit rather than have meaningful discussions with the church and school to resolve her differences.”

“St. Paul has always acted in the best interests of the children entrusted to our care. Our families recognize this, and this is one reason our school is so highly regarded in the community,” Ryan wrote.

“Our track record of providing a quality Christian education to our community since 1956 speaks for itself, as do our hundreds of alumni who have gone on from St. Paul to lead successful and meaningful lives.  St. Paul regularly reexamines its policies and when appropriate, updates those policies in order to ensure that our children are safe,” he wrote.

“Likewise, St. Paul treats all of its employees with dignity and respect, and we do not and will not discriminate against anyone based on their gender. In fact, 90 percent of teachers, staff and employees are female, demonstrating that we clearly do not have a bias against women. These alleged comments do not represent the integrity of our leadership team, or the ethos of our community,” he wrote.

[email protected] / (585) 232-2035

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