Cynthia Buschagen isn't leaving Castle Rock's Faith Lutheran Church quietly. On Friday, the 66-year old filed a lawsuit against her former employer -- as well as its parent organization, Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Faith Lutheran's pastor, Reverend Michael Knauff -- alleging age discrimination. According to the lawsuit, Buschagen was let go at age sixty-four because, in Knauff's words, she was "so old" and "just couldn't relate."
And she says she wasn't the only alleged victim. Another woman has also filed suit.
"It's a repeated pattern of behavior," Buschagen says. "But this time, two females decided they were going to speak up for what seemed the right thing to do, and not just let it get swept under the rug."
Knauff has not returned a call today from Westword. We'll update this blog when and if he does. As for the Rocky Mountain Synod, they said they hadn't yet heard of the lawsuit.
Buschagen started working at Faith Lutheran in 2000 as its director of service ministries, overseeing volunteers who worked with the church's congregation and the community. From the start, the lawsuit alleges that the church paid her less than salary guidelines called for -- presumably because she is a woman. Faith Lutheran has a history of paying men more money, the suit says.
In late 2007, Knauff asked the church council if they could get rid of Buschagen because he deemed her old and out-of-touch, the lawsuit says. Buschagen caught wind of what was going on and complained to church leaders.
"After that happened, it appeared it was almost a deliberate attack of retaliation," she says.
In May 2008, the lawsuit says Knauff gave congregants a doctored document that inflated the salaries of Buschagen, business manager Elisabeth Smotherman and the church organist, a woman over age forty. Knauff suggested the church dump the three women to save money, it says.
On June 30, 2008, Buschagen and the other women were terminated. The next day, the church hired two young men to serve in two completely different positions: music director and youth minister. Their salaries were higher than Buschagen's, the lawsuit says.
In October, Buschagen filed charges of discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In June 2009, the lawsuit says a church newsletter called those charges "an act by the devil."
"I was amazed that somebody would want to say that in a public venue, but that's what they did say," Buschagen says. "Before that was publicized, I don't think people thought we had done anything wrong."
At the end of 2009, Buschagen says she decided to withdraw her EEOC complaints and file a lawsuit instead because she thought it'd be more effective. Since losing her job at Faith Lutheran, she found part-time work as a secretary for a church in Lakewood. But she only works fifteen hours a week and has no benefits, which has put a strain on her family.
"I really love these people," she says of her new job, "but I'm not convinced this is what God called me to do."
Time -- and legal arguments -- will tell if the court agrees.
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