The former principal of Cardinal O'Hara High School has sued the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for suddenly firing her last November, just five months after she was asked to be associate superintendent.
The suit maintains that Marie Rogai was a distinguished Catholic school educator who was told she did not smile enough and was too direct in a meeting with her bosses on Nov. 8 in which she was asked to resign.
After Rogai refused to step down, she was fired three days later with no explanation to her or the school community, the lawsuit says.
The sudden midyear termination of a principal implies there was "misconduct, generally of a sexual, criminal, fraudulent, or similar basis," according to the suit, which was filed Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Other defendants include Faith in the Future Foundation, the fund-raising group that oversees 17 high schools and four schools of special education; its chief executive officer, Samuel Casey Carter; Carol A. Cary, superintendent of secondary education; Peter Balzano, associate superintendent; Christopher Mominey, secretary for the Office of Catholic Education; and Cardinal O'Hara's President's Advisory Board.
Kenneth Gavin, an archdiocese spokesman, said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment.
The suit says Rogai was a trusted 14-year employee who had been offered the position of associate superintendent of schools just five months before her termination.
According to the suit, her trouble started on June 20, 2013, in a meeting with Carter to discuss staff cuts. She fought to keep staff, the suit says, and also mentioned a former O'Hara teacher who had been placed on leave for misconduct the previous January had been reinstated to a different school and given back pay at the urging of Brian Tierney, a board member of Faith in the Future Foundation and former publisher of The Inquirer.
Despite serving on archdiocesan ad hoc committees over the summer and being commended by Mominey, the head of Catholic Education, for teaching an Advanced Placement Spanish class in addition to her other duties, Rogai alleges that on Nov. 8 Cary and Balzano told her that the O'Hara advisory board had decided she was an "ineffective leader," and Mominey wanted her resignation.
Cary, according to the suit, said she disagreed with the decision but was following orders. She also said Mominey claimed he had received complaints from parents about her, the suit said, but Cary and Balzano said they were not personally aware of any.
The only rationale they gave for her firing was that she "doesn't smile enough" and was "too direct," according to the lawsuit. Rogai's suit says she refused to resign, and three days later Cary fired her in a voice mail.
"Here is a woman who is exemplary in all of the reports and evaluations, and they just come in and say 'We want you to resign by 5, and if you're not going to resign we're going to terminate you,' " said her lawyer, Daniel P. McElhatton.
Rogai claims she was also not permitted to return to teaching. The Association of Catholic Teachers filed a grievance on her behalf, but it was dismissed by the archdiocese.
When she returned to her office on Nov. 23 to collect her things, she said, some items were missing, including a very favorable June 2013 performance evaluation. Despite repeated requests, the archdiocese has refused to provide a copy, the lawsuit says.