The Way settles suit with couple
Sidney Daily News 11/07/2000
A couple who were former employees of The Way International have settled a lawsuit they filed in Shelby County Common Pleas Court against officials of the religious organization, thus averting a trial scheduled to begin Wednesday.
The settlement comes on the heels of a ruling from Judge John D. Schmitt that dismissed only two of the six allegations against officials of The Way, 5555 Wierwille Road, New Knoxville. Schmitt ruled a jury should decide four allegations against The Way officials.
Mrs. Allen and Mr. Allen claim they suffered humiliation, embarrassment and stress at the hands of The Way officials, and that officials attempted to “coerce” Mrs. Allen into engaging in sexual activity with the Rev. L. Craig Martindale, former president, between 1996 and 1999. The Allens resigned from The Way in 1999.
Sidney attorney Michael Boller, who represented The Way along with Louis Colombo of Cleveland, confirmed Monday that a settlement was in hand. “I can confirm the trial is not going forward. It’s my understanding that all issues have been settled,” Boller said.
The Allens had sought $2 million on a claim of breach of contract and additional damages on other claims. They also claimed The Way officials defrauded them of money, conspired against them and damaged their reputations. They claimed damages totaling $56 million. They also claimed the “mark and avoid” designation ordered by The Way leaders on former members defamed them.
Defense attorneys filed a motion seeking a judgment and dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming The Way, is protected by the First Amendment against most of the claims alleged by the Allens and that they waited too long to make allegations regarding coerced sexual activity.
Martindale is named a defendant in the lawsuit along with the Rev. Rosalie F. Rivenbark. Martindale resigned as The Way president soon after the complaint was filed and was replaced by Rivenbark. In September Martindale resigned from all official affiliations with The Way. Martindale claims he and Mrs. Allen had a consensual affair.
Schmitt ruled a jury should decide the following allegations: that The Way breached its contract with them by creating impossible working conditions, including requiring Mrs. Allen to submit to sexual assault as a condition of employment; that she was sexually victimized by Martindale and others; that the alleged assault against her was the result of a conspiracy; and that officials of The Way engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity.
The judge noted that while the U.S. Constitution and court rulings prohibit courts from interfering with religious beliefs and opinions, courts may become involved in practices and conduct among organization members.
“The Ohio Supreme Court has determined that sexual misconduct by clergy is not protected by any claim of First Amendment privilege,” Schmitt ruled. “Similarly, a religious organization can be held liable for failing to protect its members from the sexual assaults of its employees.” The question of whether the encounters between Mrs. Allen and Martindale were consensual should be decided by a jury, the judge ruled.
Schmitt allowed the allegations to stand even though the lawsuit was filed after a one-year time limit had expired. He noted defense attorneys had agreed to extend any applicable statue of limits by one month through mid-April of this year. The lawsuit was filed April 3.
A jury also should decide whether there was a conspiracy among officials of The Way. Evidence existed that Rivenbark knew of Martindale’s sexual relationships outside his marriage as early as 1995, Schmitt noted. Evidence exists that Rivenbark and another woman played a role in events leading to the encounters between Allen and Martindale, which a jury would have to use to decide whether officials engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity against the Allens, Schmitt ruled.
Schmitt dismissed claims by the Allens about the “mark and avoid” designation and that the defendants misused their fiduciary relationship. He ruled that “mark and avoid” is an internal form of church discipline that is beyond court authority to regulate. Schmitt indicated he couldn’t rule on the other claim because it would require an examination of The Way’s religious beliefs. Other rulings prohibit such court examinations, he ruled.
The Allens operate a site on the Internet called WayDale that offers “insider information” about officials of The Way and recent events.
Other defendants named in the lawsuit were John R. Reynolds, Donald E. Wirewille, Howard R. Allen and Ramona Bidon.