US & World

El Monte woman alleges sexual harassment, brings suit against LA Archdiocese

A former South El Monte parochial school employee who alleges she was sexually harassed by a church pastor can move forward with her lawsuit, but not under the legal theory that could entitle her to the most damages, a judge ruled today.

Alma Burciaga filed suit last October against the Los Angeles archdiocese -- under its legal name, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles -- and the Rev. Antonio Esteban.

Burciaga, who began working as a janitor and cook at the Epiphany Catholic Church school in January 2007, alleges Esteban spanked her on the buttocks when she walked near him and hugged her "in a sexual manner that was offensive'' to her.

When Burciaga complained to a supervisor, the boss told her to "endure the harassment and hopefully in time Father Esteban would stop harassing'' her, according to her court papers.

Burciaga was later placed on medical leave by her doctor. The physician gave her permission to return last year, so long as she did not have to work around priests so she could continue her recovery, but the archdiocese refused to reinstate her, according to her suit.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided today with archdiocese attorneys who maintain that religious organizations cannot be sued under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act and that Burciaga's claims should be barred under that theory.

A FEHA claim would have allowed Burciaga to seek a higher damage award, said her attorney, Antonio J. Gonzalez.

Treu said Burciaga can proceed with her allegations under a civil rights violation theory, which puts a cap on damages, according to the lawyer.

"At the end of the day, we still have a sexual harassment suit,'' Gonzalez said.

Esteban is no longer listed on the Epiphany Church Web site.

KPCC wire services contributed to this report