Church lawsuit settled

MANCHESTER VILLAGE - The plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the First Congregational Church of Manchester have opted to discontinue their action against the church's governing body, the Board of Elders.

A joint agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants to dismiss the action was approved by the Vermont Superior Court in Bennington on Nov. 29.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs' complaints included concerns that the First Congregational Church officials had violated Vermont law by unlawfully refusing to provide the plaintiffs with access to the church membership list, minutes of church council meetings, and other church records. The plaintiffs maintained that access to these records would confirm a lack of effective oversight and management by church officials that resulted in the loss of more than 30 percent of the church's endowment fund within a single three-month period, the misdirection of $200,000 in capital campaign funds from the purpose for which the congregation had approved those funds and the illegal and unauthorized changes made to the church's pension plan and retirement fund, in order to allow an otherwise ineligible employee to obtain pension benefits. Other charges involved the unauthorized and illegal removal from the church of highly confidential church records and documents and the complete reorganization of the governing structure of the church, without the required amendment of the church's bylaws.

The defendants - the Church officials - applied for an application earlier in the process to dismiss the case on constitutional grounds, alleging that the plaintiffs' lawsuit violated the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees separation of church and state. That application was denied.

A previous settlement offer was proposed by the Board of Elders, which included some financial compensation for the plaintiffs. That settlement was rejected because the plaintiffs were not seeking any form of financial compensation and the proposal included a requirement that the plaintiffs resign from the church.

Rob Woolmington, the attorney for church said, "All I can really say that the church is glad this is concluded."


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