The Catholic Diocese of Memphis (Tenn.) is facing backlash after a black housekeeper lost out on a cleaning job after church staffers reportedly claimed a priest’s dog “doesn’t like black people” and therefore she’d need to find work elsewhere.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (ah, Tennessee), housekeeper LaShundra Allen and a white colleague, Emily Weaver, plan to sue the diocese, claiming racial discrimination.
For the church’s part, according to the report, Bishop David Talley in an email to area Catholics wrote that what parish staff actually said was, “Fr. Jacek’s dog is kinda racist” (oh, that’s much better).
But the bishop said the staffers meant no “racial animus”; rather, they were trying to explain that the German shepherd owned by “Fr. Jacek,” aka the Rev. Jacek Kowal, would become “more agitated initially around strangers with darker skin, until the dog gets to know them.”
Weaver, who was employed cleaning Kowal’s home, had brought Allen to the Catholic Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tenn., with the intention of training Allen to be her replacement.
Weaver’s calling foul, the Commercial Appeal reports, telling the paper that the church is being “disrespectful” and that she and Allen plan to sue.
Weaver says the staffers just kicked them out and didn’t even give Allen a chance to “get to know” the dog.
“Why wasn’t LaShundra given the chance to get to know him?” Weaver asked. “Those staff represent a religion, a church, a school. In fact, one of the biggest Catholic organizations in the area. They’re continuing to be disrespectful by attempting to brush the comments made off.”
Weaver says Kowal wasn’t present when she and Allen arrived at the church, but that the staff never told them to perhaps come back when Kowal returned and could rein in his dog.
For her part, Allen, in an interview with the Washington Post, says she’s “haunted” by the experience she received at the hands of church folk.
“They came at me like it was supposed to be a joke,” Allen said, “but it was not funny. There was nothing funny about it.”
According to the Commercial Appeal, a letter from the women’s attorneys that was sent to the diocese also notes:
Kowal “made no effort to come meet Ms. Allen. He made no effort to correct any statement about his dog being a ‘racist.’
“The two church office employees then reiterated that Father Jacek ‘did not want (Ms. Allen) there’ and that they needed to leave. Both Ms. Allen and Ms. Weaver were shocked, humiliated, and felt severely disrespected by this treatment and the statements.”
The church insists this is all a big misunderstanding, saying “claims of racial bias and discrimination are unfounded,” and basically stating the equivalent of “Hey, the pastor has black friends.”
Per the Commercial Appeal:
In his last assignment as pastor, Kowal employed an African American housekeeper for the entire five years he was there, according to Talley’s letter.