Lutheran School Screws Teacher Over; Religious Man to the Rescue

The Chicago Tribune runs this great column called “What’s Your Problem?” You write in with your problems and the reporter, Jon Yates, does what he can to fix it. (It’s useful to be able to contact places and say: If you can’t correct the mistake you made, I’m going to write about it in the Tribune and give you bad publicity.)

Recently, one woman had issues with a private Lutheran school she worked at:

During Jennifer Garrison‘s final performance review in March, a St. Luke Academy administrator asked if she planned to return to the school this fall.

The schoolteacher thought a moment and decided it was best to be honest.

“No,” she said.

It seemed innocent enough at the time, but that answer wound up costing her more than $5,300 — money Garrison said she both earned and deserves.

Basically, Garrison’s contract said she would earn $32,000 a year teaching her 3rd-and-4th-graders. Even though she would teach for 10 months, the paychecks would come in 12 monthly installments. (This is typical at a lot of schools, including public ones.) When she told the school in March that she would not be coming back for another year, they cut off her paychecks for the last two months she was owed.

“It’s a Lutheran school. I didn’t think they would do this to me,” [said Garrison].

It’s quite dickish of the school, really. They wouldn’t comment on the case and they didn’t give her the money even after the column ran:

The Problem Solver called the church’s pastor, Rev. David Abrahamson, who said he could not talk about Garrison’s case.

“As you can well imagine, that’s a personnel matter,” Abrahamson said. He said school and church policy prohibited him from talking about such issues. “This is a matter between the school and Jennifer.”

When asked if he could speak in general terms about the school’s salary policies and contract, Abrahamson again declined.

“That’s really none of your business,” he said.

Spokesmen for both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ECLA declined comment, saying St. Luke operates independently of those institutions.

It’s been over a month since that story ran in the paper. Today, there was a follow-up story with a happy ending. But the church had nothing to do with it. Instead, it was a religious man to the rescue:

Ralph Johnson doesn’t consider himself a man of means, but he is a man of strong belief. So after reading the July 4 What’s Your Problem? about Jennifer Garrison, he prayed.

When he was done, the 77-year-old got out his checkbook and wrote the Chicago schoolteacher a check for $4,000 — roughly the amount, after taxes, that he believes Garrison was cheated by St. Luke Academy.

“I realize people are taken advantage of every day and every way, but not by a church,” said Johnson, who lives in the Chicago area. “I just felt so badly that anyone supposedly representing God’s work on Earth would claim a technicality to keep from paying this woman what she’s earned.”

Johnson said he read the story and felt compelled to act. A retired systems analyst, Johnson spent 25 years working for the state. He receives a pension and some investment income, which allows him to contribute to causes he deems worthy.

“With my frugal lifestyle, I feel like I can afford just about anything I want because my wants are few,” he said. “I prayed on it. I believe [the donation] was what I was led to want to do.”

He prayed for guidance, and “the guidance” told him he should write the check. We can argue the merits of praying and whether he was just innately a good guy (and the prayer was irrelevant), but the point it he did an amazing thing. And you have to admire him for that. Not to mention he wasn’t doing this for the glory:

Because he did not know how to contact Garrison, Johnson sent the check to the Problem Solver and asked that it be forwarded to her. He said Garrison need not contact him, and that he was uncomfortable with publicity about his donation. He later relented and allowed his name to appear in print, but declined to have his picture taken.

Shocked at first and thinking a “thank you” over the phone wasn’t enough, Garrison took Johnson out for lunch:

Johnson said he feels good about his donation. After meeting Garrison over lunch, he knows he made the right decision.

“It was a pleasure meeting her. She’s a very nice lady,” he said. “I guess I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for teachers. I certainly appreciated all the ones I had.”

What a sweet story.

But it’s too bad the church couldn’t fix the problem they caused in the first place. Saint Luke’s Academy: Teaching people what Jesus would do since 1882.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Chicago Tribune, What’s Your Problem?, Jon Yates, Jennifer Garrison, St. Luke Academy, David Abrahamson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Ralph Johnson, Jesus, Christian[/tags]

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  • Maria

    just goes to show that irrespective on how institutions are, people can be very good on their own.

  • It’s like my French relatives say about the USA – hate the leadership, love the people.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s a familiar theme: individuals who live by a set of principles can be wonderful. Institutions supposedly based on the same principles can be quite the opposite. Too bad that Johnson’s compassion ended up enabling St. Luke’s to get away with being jerks. They’ll do it again until somebody takes them to court.

  • PrimateIR

    Integrity of the church aside, there is something very embarrassing about an adult that is not sharp enough to grasp the fundamentals of capitalism.

    There, in a position of esteemed authority – apparently the church’s best and brightest – is a man too dull to put his mind around the very high cost of poor pr.

  • Lee

    And in the end, St. Luke’s got its comeuppence… and the teacher received what belonged to her in the first place. A good story with a real fairytale ending… pretty cool. Good guy wins, bad guy loses.

    I wonder what effect this scenario will have on St. Luke’s dealings in the future…

  • …. Why isn’t denying salary like that equivalent to breaking a contract? Why does the school think they can legally get away with that kind of crap?

  • HappyNat

    And in the end, St. Luke’s got its comeuppence

    How did St Luke’s lose? They didn’t pay the teahcer what she was due so they saved money, some other chump paid her for them so they are off the hook. They got some bad press but I doubt this will cost them anything in the long run. Sounds like they won to me.

  • PrimateIR

    They got some bad press but I doubt this will cost them anything in the long run.

    Happynat, I disagree. You can bet that this publicized dishonesty will be very disturbing to their larger contributors. No one at the country club wants to be known as the guy that gives to schools that screw teachers.

    Not only that but I’m sure that the parishioners have lots of stories of disturbing corner cutting on the part of Mr. Abramson that have not made the press. Having this story in print validates and empowers others.

    Have faith. 😀

  • Vincent

    “I realize people are taken advantage of every day and every way, but not by a church,”

    Well, now he knows better. People are taken advantage of every day, especially by churches.

  • HappyNat

    Happynat, I disagree. You can bet that this publicized dishonesty will be very disturbing to their larger contributors. No one at the country club wants to be known as the guy that gives to schools that screw teachers

    I believe that as soon as people stop giving to the catholic church . . . 🙂

  • PrimateIR

    Point taken.

  • Get a Life

    I signed a contract to work for my job and earn $35,000 a year. I quit 3 months into the job. Does that mean I’m entitled to the remaining 9 months of pay?

    Come on people, get a life. Welcome to the real world.