Terminating Employees for Misappropriating Church Funds
Court cautions churches to be consistent in treatment of wayward employees.

Gonzalez v. Parish of Trinity Church, 2004 WL 1161175 (S.D.N.Y.)

Background. A woman of Puerto Rican descent (Martha) was employed by a church as a secretary in the accounting office. Her job involved the preparation and transmittal of data to the church's outside payroll service as well as other responsibilities including the deposit of donations into church bank accounts.

Church officials noted that for one month payroll expense exceeded the budget, and the accounting office performed an analysis to determine the source of the variance. The church discovered that on one day during the month in question Martha had received seventy hours of advance vacation pay, totaling $1,217, in addition to her regular paycheck. This advance vacation pay was not deducted in any subsequent period, resulting in an overpayment to her.

In order to receive advance vacation pay, the church required an employee to submit a written request, signed by a supervisor, at least three weeks in advance of the first scheduled vacation day. This procedure ensured that the advance was properly recorded and that the employee was not overpaid. Martha did not notify the church of her advance vacation pay request, nor did she obtain the consent of her supervisor. Rather, she arranged for the payment directly through the outside payroll service. She did nothing to correct the overpayment until confronted about it four months later. Arrangements were then made to deduct the overpayment from subsequent paychecks.

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Posted: April 1, 2005
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