Nun took a vow of poverty – but is suing for pay (Laura Stone, 2011)

NOTE: The following newspaper articles are from the Toronto Star,  December 21, 2011. The articles concern a former nun from St. Kosmas Monastery in Bolton, Canada. The nun (Ivantchenko) filed a lawsuit alleging constructive dismissal (among other claims, including a variety of torts). She is seeking notice of termination (back wages), among other remedies.

Victoria Ivantchenko is suing the Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery — including the Mother Superior — as well as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto for “wrongful constructive dismissal.” The crux of the case stems from the question of whether Ivantchenko can be considered an employee at all.

Rob Griffith/AP It’s unclear why Victoria Ivantchenko left the monastery, but in her lawsuit she alleges slander, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of mental suffering.
Rob Griffith/AP It’s unclear why Victoria Ivantchenko left the monastery, but in her lawsuit she alleges slander, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of mental suffering.

For 14 years, Victoria Ivantchenko lived as a nun at a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Bolton, Ont.

Now she wants to get paid for it.

A secular court must decide whether she, as a nun, was an employee of the monastery or a volunteer servant to God.

Ivantchenko is suing the Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery — including the Mother Superior — as well as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto for “wrongful constructive dismissal.”

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (1 Patriarch Bartholomew Way)
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (1 Patriarch Bartholomew Way)

It’s unclear why Ivantchenko even left the monastery, but in her lawsuit she also alleges slander, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of mental suffering. She is seeking damages and back pay.

“This is a unique case. It’s been a terrible ordeal for my client and given that she is a nun, the unpleasantness is very difficult for her,” said Ivantchenko’s lawyer, Norman Epstein, who declined to elaborate on his client’s history at the monastery for legal reasons.

The crux of the case stems from the question of whether Ivantchenko can be considered an employee at all.

A motion by the monastery and church to have the case thrown out without a trial was dismissed by Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Lauwers. He said there wasn’t enough evidence on which he could rule, and the issues should be decided at trial. He also added he was “especially troubled by the profound ambiguity” of a January affidavit from the Mother Superior on the nature of the monastery.

Gerondissa Alexia & Bishop Sotirios
Gerondissa Alexia & Bishop Sotirios

Lauwers’ comments point to the difficulty in dealing with religious matters in civil court. Religious organizations vary widely in their practices on whether those serving them are paid as employees.

“Courts are reluctant to become involved in the internal affairs of a religious organization,” Lauwers said in his reason for the decision.

The lawyer representing the monastery declined to comment, and the lawyer for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis did not return calls.

According to the affidavit from Mother Superior Anastasia Voutzali, Ivantchenko came to live at the monastery on Feb. 26, 1996. Three years later, she became a “Rassaphore,” the second stage of her development as a nun. She left the monastery in May 2010 and began her civil suit that August.

Bells at St. Kosmas Monastery

“The obligation of a nun in this type of monastery is to strive to keep, for the love of Christ and for spiritual progress, the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” reads the Mother Superior’s affidavit.

“Monastic work is for God and not for people. It is not a career.”

But for Ivantchenko, it appears it was.

She said she performed tasks that would be seen in the secular world as “work,” including sewing religious vestments and doing embroidery, for which the monastery received compensation.

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The Mother Superior asserts that these tasks — including daily chores, tending to elderly or sick sisters, hospitality and crafts — fall within the ordinary responsibilities of a nun. She said the sisters in the monastery sign no contract, receive no salary or pay, and don’t take vacations.

“At no time was it stated, or implied, that she was working, in any way for pay,” she said.

But Ivantchenko’s lawyer argued that these activities show Ivantchenko is an employee for civil law purposes and is entitled to sue for wrongful dismissal.

In 2007, a case from the Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan also looked at the issue of nuns as individual employees and a religious corporation as the employer.

A group of adults who were abused as children by nuns at an orphanage claimed Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, known as Sisters, was responsible for the conduct of individual nuns. Sisters, however, claimed as a corporation it did not have an employer-employee relationship with individual nuns.

In the end, the judge ruled a class action lawsuit could proceed against Sisters.

Platform

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/12/21/nun_took_a_vow_of_poverty_but_is_suing_for_pay.html

http://lawofwork.ca/?p=4399

 

Nun suing monastery says sisters harrassed her, killed her cats (Laura Stone, 2011)

NOTE: The following newspaper articles are from the Toronto Star,  December 21, 2011. The articles concern a former nun from St. Kosmas Monastery in Bolton, Canada. The nun (Ivantchenko) filed a lawsuit alleging constructive dismissal (among other claims, including a variety of torts). She is seeking notice of termination (back wages), among other remedies.

“Harassment was extreme, flagrant and outrageous conduct on a continuous basis,” according to Victoria Ivantchenko’s statement of claim filed with Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

St. Kosmas Monastery Feast Day, August 24,  2009.
St. Kosmas Monastery Feast Day, August 24, 2009.

Life in the monastery was “toxic” for former nun Victoria Ivantchenko. Her fellow sisters interfered with her private medical information, accused her of not eating in order to look slim, and even killed her adopted pet cats.
So are the details found in Ivantchenko’s $400,000 lawsuit against both the Sisters at St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Bolton, Ont. and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto for “wrongful constructive dismissal.”
Ivantchenko — reportedly a former ballerina who trained at “the top school” in St. Petersburg, Russia — says she was harassed by Mother Superior Anastasia Voutzali and other sisters, which eventually led her to unwillingly resign in May 2010.

Gerondissa Alexia (Anastasia Voutzali)
Gerondissa Alexia (Anastasia Voutzali)

Her case now hinges on whether or not she was ever considered an employee of the monastery — a claim disputed by Mother Superior who says monastic work is for God, and not a career.
But Ivantchenko says the Mother Superior “intimidated” her, “lessening her active involvement in the Monastery’s work, lessening her responsibilities, and into considering quitting from the monastery.”

Gerondissa Alexia & Bishop Sotirios.
Gerondissa Alexia & Bishop Sotirios.

In her statement of claim, Ivantchenko accuses the sisters of killing her adopted cats who lived on the monastery grounds; interfering with her medical information; falsely accusing her of losing weight in order to embarrass the monastery; intercepting her mail; and creating false bank accounts in her name to hide monastery money.
“Harassment was extreme, flagrant and outrageous conduct on a continuous basis,” according to Ivantchenko’s statement filed with Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
None of the allegations have been proved in court and the sisters deny any wrongdoing in a statement of defence.
Now, Ivantchenko wants the monastery and church to pay her salary for 14 years of service as well as damages for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect.”
An Ontario Superior Court Justice recently threw out a motion by the monastery and church to see the case dismissed, saying it will likely go trial. Ivantchenko’s lawyer, Norman Epstein, said he’s been served with a notice that they plan to appeal the decision.

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Lawyers for St. Kosmas Aitolos and the Greek Metropolis declined to comment.
In a statement of defence, the sisters contradict the former nun’s accusations, such as the killing of cats. They say the cats roamed wild in the monastery’s rural area which is infested by foxes, coy dogs and coyotes. “Ivantchenko was well aware of this” and even witnessed two dogs kill a cat several years ago, it says.
They also strike down Ivantchenko’s notion of being employed at the monastery. “She did not resign as there was no position to resign from. Her to choice to leave was her own decision,” they claim.
“She was treated well by all of the other sisters in the monastery and was often given special attention.”
The documents also detail a rift between the monastery and Ivantchenko’s family, including her mother, sister, and brother-in-law, who also attended the congregation. According to the monastery’s statement of defence, Ivantchenko’s mother, Ludmilla Davidenko, was asked to leave the grounds and was “verbally abusing” the nuns.
Ivantchenko’s family is also seeking $100,000 as part of the damages.

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http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1105701–nun-suing-monastery-says-sisters-harrassed-her-killed-her-cats