Institutional Abuse at Veritas Academy – Part 4

Read Part 3 here.

It was October of 2021 before I gathered my courage enough to ask Veritas directly for my paycheck. I had spent months processing my emotions, seeking advice from trusted peers and mentors, receiving spiritual counsel from my pastor, and even pursuing legal counsel for what had happened. As one friend pointed out to me, “Steph, that’s religious discrimination!”

Of course, Veritas Academy is a Christian institution. My lawyer confirmed what I suspected: as Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, Veritas was free to fire me at any time, for any reason, and particularly for any reason protected under religious freedoms.

This made sense to me. It was clear that the institution and I needed to part ways; my perspective on a few key things did not align with their values and priorities, and because they were unwilling to allow me to have my own personal point of view on two distinct matters, I knew I would not be safe there. Indeed, Ty Fischer described the idea of allowing me to continue at Veritas Academy as “throwing you to the lions” when he and Bruce Etter, the Dean of Academics, called to tell me I was dismissed. I was glad to go.

But I wondered why I hadn’t received a paycheck, and when I mentioned this to a few friends, they were aghast. “They didn’t even pay you?!”

So I asked my lawyer to look over my employment contract and tell me whether or not I was entitled to any compensation.

She told me in no uncertain terms that yes, of course I was. It was right there in the contract:

My lawyer informed me that, according to the contract, not only was I entitled to two weeks’ pay, I was entitled to a total of six weeks’ pay because the contract’s bi-weekly pay periods began on July 1, 2021, and I had been dismissed on August 11, 2021. Indeed, I remembered asking Pam Carlson, the Director of Operations at Veritas, about that odd wording in the contract when I first started. Would I be entitled to backpay for July 1-26? She had assured me I would, and she also told me they would be happy to roll the compensation from those weeks into my first paycheck.

This aligned with what my lawyer told me: I was actually entitled to just over $2,000 worth of compensation. My lawyer also advised me that I should begin by asking Veritas Academy directly for what I was owed. Wes Callihan, a mentor, friend, and fellow classical educator, told me the same thing.

So I did. This is what I wrote:

I received this response:

Truth be told, at the time, the excuse they gave infuriated me.

I hadn’t worked?

What about every other teacher on the payroll who hadn’t set foot in a classroom for those two weeks, let alone the whole rest of the summer, who had still received their pay?

Did my frantic scrabbling to create a course out of nothing a month out from the first day of school count for nothing? The meetings, the trainings, the professional correspondence, the research?

Apparently not, because none of it ultimately benefitted Veritas. They fired me before they got anything they could actually use out of me.

Whose fault was that?

I went back to my lawyer. She expressed her regrets but told me the truth: while she was confident it was a clearcut case, and I could hire her to pursue the matter in court, even the maximum recompense I could expect to receive would not be enough to cover her legal fees. She told me that, if I wanted, I could represent myself in small claims court and pointed me to the resources I would need to do so. She was very kind.

And, of course, being a yet-again-traumatized victim of abuse, homeschool mom of three small children, and parent of a special needs child, I was in no position to advocate for myself in court while facing people I had trusted to respect me and defend my best interests but who, instead, had betrayed me on multiple levels.

How could a Christian institution so callously discard a human being made in the image of God–the God that the institution was in fact created to honor?

Read Part 5 here–in which I write a formal letter of complaint to the board of Veritas Academy.

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