Padua principal's attorney blames gender discrimination for sudden firing

Hundreds of Padua Academy's students protested Monday outside school, demanding ousted Principal Cindy Mann's reinstatement. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Hundreds of Padua Academy's students protested Monday outside school, demanding ousted Principal Cindy Mann's reinstatement. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The recently ousted principal at Padua Academy, a prominent Delaware girls Catholic high school, is firing back at the pastor and the Diocese of Wilmington through her attorney.

In a fight that is getting uglier by the day and already saw students stage a full-day walkout Monday at the Wilmington school, documents provided to WHYY reveal that ousted principal Cindy Mann had accused the pastor of dishonesty in February.

The firing of the 68-year-old Mann, who had headed Padua since 2009, has generated unprecedented outrage from parents and students. Beyond Monday’s widespread protest by nearly all of the 660 students, families have protested outside its sponsoring church, St. Anthony of Padua. Students even demonstrated at Mass before returning to class Tuesday.

And now her lawyer Thomas Neuberger — who secured tens of millions of dollars from the Diocese of Wilmington about a decade ago while representing nearly 100 clergy sex abuse victims — is accusing the church of gender discrimination. Neuberger said he is preparing a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that could lead to a lawsuit seeking lost compensation and damages.

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Only 3 percent of Padua Academy’s students are members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Wilmington. The church is demanding $240,000 a year from the school by 2021-22 but Principal Cindy Mann objected to the assessment and was fired Friday. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The dispute revolves around the parish’s demands for a portion of revenues at the school, where tuition is about $14,000. It’s $135 per student this year – a total of $90,000 — and will increase to $400 in three years, for a total of $240,000, according to a February update to parishioners from the Rev. Nicholas Waseline, the pastor.

A memo Mann had written to her board after Waseline’s update said that was too much and would lead to higher tuition and “possible personnel loss.”

Neuberger told WHYY on Wednesday that Mann was fired because she was a woman standing up to the male-dominated church.

“It appears to us she’s being viewed as a strong uppity woman by the bishop and pastor and they are not used to dealing with strong women,’’ Neuberger said. “Whatever she has said to them has been well within the bounds of reasonable discussion, advocating for the school.’’

Neuberger said it’s not Padua’s fault that the parish is failing financially. And echoing Mann’s February memo, he also derided Waseline for claiming in a letter after her firing a “majority” of Padua’s student body had “historically” been parishioners, but now only 3 percent of students belong to St. Anthony’s.

Parents of Padua Academy students protested with students Monday to reinstate Cindy Mann as principal. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Neuberger, who said his wife attended Padua in the 1960s, noted that barely 30 percent of students then were from St. Anthony’s parish.

Mann had claimed in her February memo that Waseline’s rationale for the payments was not “based on truth.”

Their response, to fire her for “insubordination,” according to Waseline’s termination notice, was too harsh, Neuberger said.

“They have a progressive discipline policy out there. If they didn’t like what she said, give her a verbal warning. Give her a written warning. Give her a reprimand. Put her on probation.”

The pastor has not responded to requests for comment.

A Wilmington diocese spokesman would not comment on the bias claim, but referred a reporter to a statement the diocese posted on its website Wednesday.

The diocese said Bishop Francis Malooly has spent the past several days “working behind the scenes’’ with clergy and Padua’s board “in efforts to resolve this painful and divisive situation.”

Malooly asked Waseline and Mann to meet with an independent mediator “in hopes of beginning a conversation toward reconciliation,” the statement said. Waseline “responded favorably to this invitation’’ but Mann “did not.”

Now that Mann “has indicated that she intends to file a lawsuit, it appears that further conversation with her is not possible at this time,’’ the statement said.

Neuberger also provided a statement from Mann to students and their parents.

“I am proud that we are Padua Sisters,” she wrote. “Even more, I am thankful that we are women of faith. With God we can move mountains.”




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