A former employee of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Bernalillo has filed a human rights complaint saying the church pastor made sexist comments, called female employees “servants” and told them “not to question the male hierarchy,” according to a lawsuit filed in District Court in Santa Fe.
Patricia Garcia alleged that after she was fired, the Rev. Stephen Imbarrato, the former parish priest, told parishioners and others that she had stolen from church collection plates.
“Plaintiff Garcia had never been accused of stealing from the offering plates,” the complaint said. “This was an untrue statement designed to retaliate against her and to threaten her.”
The false accusations resulted in Garcia being fired in October 2012, the complaint said.
Contacted on Monday, Anita Kelley, Garcia’s attorney, said she hopes the lawsuit “will send a message that it’s not OK to treat women within the church this way.”
She added, “Ms. Garcia brings this lawsuit to shed light on the treatment of female employees by a particular priest, which was apparently sanctioned by the archdiocese, with the hope that this institutional attitude toward women will improve.”
Imbarrato, meanwhile, said in an email reply that neither he nor the archdiocese had been served or received any notice of a lawsuit, and did not comment.
Garcia worked as a receptionist at the Bernalillo parish from August 2007 to July 2009, when she became director of religious education at the church.
In about September 2009, the lawsuit states, Imbarrato was hired as the new pastor.
At about the same time, Imbarrato began subjecting Garcia and other female employees to “disparaging and sexist comments,” including calling them servants, and telling them “that they were at the bottom of the totem pole, and that they were not to question the male hierarchy,” the complaint says.
Also named in the suit was the Archdiocese of Santa Fe because, the complaint said, it knew or should have known about the wrongful behavior and failed to prevent it. The complaint claims that the actions violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act.