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Former executive files lawsuit against Episcopal Church, alleging conspiracy

By Episcopal Journal

Bishop Stacy Sauls, former chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, on Jan. 20 filed a lawsuit in an Alabama circuit court against the church, seeking damages in connection with his departure from that position.

In the suit, Sauls alleges he was “the victim of a wrongful conspiracy via a calculated, determined, and prolonged series of acts … as carried out by individuals employed by the church, and others outside the employment of the church.”

Thirty other defendants are cited in the suit as participating in a “scheme to elevate the stature and authority of the president of the church’s House of Deputies [the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings]” that also was calculated “to undermine the authority, stature, and leadership” of Sauls as COO.

The 30 defendants are identified only as “John Does.” The suit says that Sauls, as plaintiff, “is unable to identify the John Doe defendants and expects to be able to do so in the discovery phase of this litigation.”

The suit notes that Sauls was appointed chief operating officer in May 2011, took office on Sept. 1, 2011, and “was terminated, on or about April 4, 2016.”

In December 2015, Sauls, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Samuel McDonald and Director of Public Engagement Alex Baumgarten were placed on administrative leave as “a result of concerns that have been raised about possible misconduct,” according to a statement made at the time from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In April 2016, Curry announced that McDonald and Baumgarten had violated the church’s workplace standards in terms of their “personal conduct in their relationships with employees” and had been terminated. Sauls, the announcement also said, had not violated those standards or known of the other staffers’ actions, but nevertheless would not continue as COO.

Sauls alleges in the lawsuit that Curry told him during a private meeting between them on April 4 that “things are too broken” and that “there were people who wanted your head.” Sauls also claims Curry never discussed the allegations against him, McDonald and Baumgarten. He further alleges that his reputation has been damaged and he has been unable to find employment since April 2016.

On Feb. 8, 2017, Curry and Jennings jointly released a letter to Episcopal Church staff stating that they had informed the church’s Executive Council of the suit.

The letter said that, at the time of Sauls’ dismissal, “the presiding bishop, in consultation with legal counsel, tried his best to negotiate a severance,” but Sauls did not accept the offer. “The presiding bishop, as a steward of church resources, felt that he could not go beyond that offer and explain it in good conscience to the church,” the letter said, according to the church’s Department of Public Affairs.

In the joint statement, Curry and Jennings said they would not comment on the litigation but were “united in our desire to resolve this suit as quickly and compassionately as possible” and were “committed to working together to create a church culture that follows the loving, liberating and life-giving way of Jesus.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages, back wages and other forms of relief.

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