Atheist Lobbying Group Files Motion to Dismiss Ex-Director’s Claims of Defamation and Wrongful Termination July 29, 2015

Atheist Lobbying Group Files Motion to Dismiss Ex-Director’s Claims of Defamation and Wrongful Termination

Back in May, Edwina Rogers (below) sued the Secular Coalition for America, her former employer, alleging that SCA leaders wrongfully terminated her and then made defamatory statements about her to the press. They were motivated, the document said, by “petty jealousies and naked ambition.”

Rogers also said that SCA President (at the time) Amanda Metskas and/or SCA Education Fund Treasurer Roy Speckhardt (of the American Humanist Association) found a way to leak information to New York Times reporters in order to get ahead of the story:

In order to assure that Plaintiff would not be given reasonable notice or any opportunity to defend herself, upon information and belief, Metskas and/or Speckhardt leaked, or caused to be leaked, Plaintiff’s termination to the New York Times, even prior to the notification to Ms. Rogers of her termination.

Upon information and belief, Metskas and/or Speckhardt intended that the New York Times report Plaintiff had embezzled funds or was otherwise responsible for the embezzlement owing to the false assumption that the Executive Director would be ultimately responsible for any financial oversight. Ms. Rogers did not have financial responsibility in her capacity as Executive Director at that time.

In addition, Rogers said that Metskas — who “envied Plaintiff” — wanted the higher salary that came with Rogers’ position and that Speckhardt had ulterior motives:

[By replacing Rogers with Metskas,] Speckhardt would be able to diminish the lobbying portfolio of SCA and thereby increase and enhance his own organization’s lobbying visibility within the secular community. Additionally, Speckhardt would not be held accountable for his lack of financial oversight that permitted the embezzlement to incur and continue.

There were more details to her lawsuit, but those were the major claims. Rogers was asking for $750,000 in compensatory damages, additional punitive and exemplary damages, and appropriate legal fees.

The Secular Coalition for America and an attorney for Speckhardt vehemently denied the claims made against them at the time.

Yesterday, the SCA and Metskas filed an official motion to dismiss these claims in their entirety.

While there’s a lot in the 29-page motion, it includes the SCA’s version of why Rogers was fired:

Throughout 2014, Ms. Rogers’ performance as SCA’s Executive Director deteriorated. Ms. Rogers’ employment problems included but were not limited to: 1) her unprofessional and abusive treatment of her staff and general mismanagement of the office; 2) her initiation of projects that directly competed with projects SCA member organizations were already conducting; and 3) her rude, insubordinate and unprofessional behavior toward SCA Board members and heads of member organizations. These issues came to a head in May of 2014.

The motion also notes that SCA was an “at will” employer and could dismiss Rogers at anytime.

What about the New York Times story? The SCA says that Metskas didn’t leak any information to reporter Mark Oppenheimer:

Within hours of the conclusion of the May 30, 2014 SCA Board Meeting [when the Board voted to fire Rogers], Metskas received a phone call from a New York Times reporter seeking SCA’s comment on the decision to end the employment relationship with Ms. Rogers… The same reporter, Mark Oppenheimer, sent Metskas several emails asking to speak with her about a story… Metskas never spoke to him over the phone but instead responded to one of his emails and wrote in pertinent part:

Your inquiries relate to confidential personnel matters, so there are serious limitations on what may be shared with you or with anyone who is outside of the organization.

Edwina [Rogers] has moved on from her position as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America for unrelated reasons. We thank her for her service and wish her the best.

Edwina Rogers has never been a suspect in the misdirection of funds at the Secular Coalition for America.

As the [NYT] article demonstrates, the only person implying that Ms. Rogers’ termination was somehow related to the embezzlement was Ms. Rogers herself.

In a separate motion to dismiss, a lawyer for Speckhardt also explained why he shouldn’t be accused of defamation:

According to the First Amended Complaint, after Speckhardt saw Rogers’ email messages, he opined, to members of the SCA Executive Committee only, that he believed the email messages reflected “insubordination.” Because of that one observation, Rogers has asserted claims against Speckhardt for defamation, intentional interference with employment contract and civil conspiracy. As shown below, these claims fail for a variety of reasons.

With respect to the defamation claim, the law is clear that Speckhardt’s “insubordination” comment was an opinion that is not verifiable, and thus cannot support a claim for defamation

Rogers’ defamation claim must be dismissed because Speckhardt’s “view” about Rogers’ conduct was pure opinion that is not verifiable, and thus cannot support a claim for defamation, and because it is protected by the common interest privilege. Rogers’ intentional interference with employment contract claim fails as a matter of law because her employment relationship with SCA was always at-will and because there are no facts showing that Speckhardt intentionally intended to procure the termination of Rogers’ employment relationship when he offered his opinion about her conduct.

I’ve reached out to Rogers for comment.

The SCA’s interim Executive Director Kelly Damerow told me in a statement:

The SCA vigorously objects to the unsubstantiated allegations made by Ms. Rogers. It is our sincere hope the court approaches these allegations as we approach the world, by evaluating the claims based on the evidence. Her conspiracy myth does not withstand critical examination. Her allegations are without merit. We are confident that these claims will ultimately be rejected by a judge or a jury.

We are immensely proud of the SCA’s efforts and accomplishments in the 13 years since its founding. We will continue to fight for nonbelievers on Capitol Hill, and will not allow a baseless lawsuit to slow our progress.

More to come as this story develops.

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