A wrongful dismissal lawsuit by the former school principal of St. Raphael Catholic School in Naperville claims the Diocese of Joliet threw her under the bus after a parent's threatening messages caused an uproar.
Mary Rehfield, 66, of Bartlett said her May 2016 dismissal was a "total shock," and the diocese used her as a "scapegoat" to deflect blame after she informed Naperville police of menacing emails and a voicemail from a pupil's father.
"The diocese of Joliet has not been served with any lawsuit and therefore has no comment at this time," Director of Communications Edward Flavin said regarding the lawsuit filed in Will County Circuit Court.
Starting in early 2016, the father, who lived in Massachusetts, left a "rude" email with a teacher saying he was concerned about his daughter being bullied, according to the lawsuit. Several other emails followed to the teacher and Rehfield that she perceived as potentially threatening, and an angry voicemail also was left with St. Raphael Church's pastor, the lawsuit claimed.
As a result, police issued an arrest warrant for the father. A photo of him was distributed to school and church employees advising them to call 911 if he showed up.
A newspaper article in May raised concerns and a meeting was called to explain the situation where parents were "volatile, explosive and aggressive" toward Rehfield, saying they should have been informed earlier, attorneys stated. Shortly after, she was dismissed.
Rehfield's lawsuit said she had acted at all times with the support and advice of school and diocesan authorities but was "unlawfully retaliated against when the information became public."
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, described her as an award-winning, popular educator who was blindsided by her firing and now is financially strapped.
Flavin said Rehfield was "under an employment contract with her parish and being compensated in accordance with the contract."