|Dismissed ecumenical official files suit|
By Linda Bloom*
May 29, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
A former staff executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns has filed suit against the agency and the Rev. Stephen Sidorak Jr., its chief executive.
The Rev. W. Douglas Mills
The Rev. W. Douglas Mills said he was wrongfully terminated from his position as associate general secretary for dialogue and interfaith relations and is seeking compensation and damages. The lawsuit was filed by his attorney, Obayomi Awoyinfa, on May 26 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
The point of the complaint, Mills told United Methodist News Service, is who has authority over the hiring and firing of elected staff. “The general secretary (Sidorak) does not understand our polity,” he said. “The point is the (commission’s) board of directors, who are in fact responsible to General Conference, are the persons who elect certain staff and can terminate certain staff.”
The lawsuit is asking for $400,000 in compensation of wages and benefits, another $500,000 for “torturous interference” by Sidorak with Mills’ employment, damages for psychological trauma, and emotional distress and reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
Attempts to reach Sidorak – who was attending an executive staff meeting in Connecticut – for reaction were unsuccessful.
On March 9, both Mills and Wendy Whiteside, another executive, were dismissed by Sidorak from their positions with the agency. Mills had worked for the agency since June 1, 2005. Sidorak issued a brief statement that they were “no longer with the agency” but expressed appreciation for their work.
Sidorak was first elected to lead the commission on May 14, 2008, and began work on July 1.
The Rev. Stephen Sidorak
During the commission’s meeting September 2008, the two executives, along with Sidorak, had been elected by its board of directors for a four-year term, an action indicated by Paragraph 713 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of law. Mills said he had never received “good indications” from directors about his work since that time.
Expectation of employment
Because of that election, Mills “had a reasonable employment expectancy of at least four years from September 2008, and these were the terms upon which (Mills) agreed to work,” the lawsuit claimed.
According to the complaint, when Sidorak was being interviewed for the position of chief executive, he made clear an intention to fire the current staff to start “on a clean slate.” Mills then suggested Sidorak consult the Book of Discipline for guidance on the employment of elected staff, the complaint said. Mills said he did not have any indication from Sidorak that he was unhappy with his work or planned to terminate his employment.
Mills, who is an elder in good standing in the New Mexico Annual Conference, said he has an appointment in June to a congregation in the New Mexico-Northwest Texas episcopal area.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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