Two former teachers of St. Anthony Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale filed lawsuits on Tuesday against the Archdiocese of Miami alleging that they were fired for reporting what they suspect was sexually abusive behavior by the former principal toward a seventh grade student.
Chanell Morello and Lynn Hoffman each lost their jobs at the school after an incident last school year. According to the lawsuits, a seventh grade girl approached Morello in hysterics and told her that the principal had lifted the girl’s skirt over her head in front of another student and another school employee.
“She was hysterical, she was shaking. She was crying and she asked me ‘please help me.’ She told me about the incident that happened,” Morello said of the student.
Morello and Hoffman, after discussing with the girl, decided it was their obligation under Florida law and Archdiocese policy to report the incident. So, they informed the Department of Children and Families and the Archdiocese.
DCF said it cannot release the findings of its investigation of the principal as it is confidential.
"Instead of being honored and cherished for doing the right thing, they were vilified by the church and fired” said their attorney Jeff Herman.
The Archdiocese hasn’t received or seen the lawsuits and cannot comment, said Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta.
“Since the Archdiocese of Miami has not received or seen the lawsuits, any comments would be difficult to make at this time. The Archdiocese of Miami provides safe environments for its 34,000 students in the Catholic School system through the “Teaching Touching Safety” program for children and VIRTUS training for adults, thorough background checks and mandatory reporting of inappropriate behavior,” she said in an email statement.
The lawsuit said Hoffman confronted the principal and alleges that she admitted doing this to the girl, and that’s when Hoffman realized there was no choice to report it.
“The principal came up and told me and two other teachers she was probably going to be taken out in handcuffs because she had lifted a girl’s skirt, and I said ‘How could you do this?’ and I knew I had to do something,” Hoffman said. “ We did the right thing,and we are suffering because of it. What kind of a message does that send to the children?”
According to the lawsuit, both Hoffman and Morello claim, the principal and another school official warned them not to report it because they would be terminated from their jobs. Both teachers said they have been completely devastated.
“I never thought that this would happen in a million years. I did what I am trained to do, what I am obligated to do to protect the kids, and I am getting fired for it,” said Morello.
They also alleged the Archdiocese obstructed them from getting other jobs in the Catholic schools.
“An Assistant Superintendent in the Archdiocese Office of Schools told Lynn that the discharge of the two women was “vengeance” for making the DCF and Archdiocese reports,” the lawsuit said.
“They have taken my life away,” Hoffman said.
The lawsuits are seeking damages in excess of $15,000.