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Suit alleges priest harassed staffer

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2002


GULFPORT -- A man has filed a civil suit against the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Gulfport, alleging that he was sexually harassed by a priest and then forced to resign from his job at the school.

GULFPORT -- A man has filed a civil suit against the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Gulfport, alleging that he was sexually harassed by a priest and then forced to resign from his job at the school.

In the suit filed Tuesday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, Ronald B. Zigmund is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 as well as back pay and benefits. He accuses the Rev. William Swengros, head of the Most Holy Name parish, of "ongoing sexual harassment, discrimination and intimidating verbal abuse."

Swengros, 43, and the diocese denied the accusations when they originally were made in March. Zigmund, 32, a former technology administrator for the school and church, subsequently took his complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found no supporting evidence.

"I think what the EEOC has said is that they have found neither for the church nor Mr. Zigmund and that the dispute is best resolved in the courtroom," said Zigmund's Palm Harbor attorney, Tommy Roebig.

"There are only two people who know what went on behind closed doors or in the car or in this private dinner that Father Swengros invited Mr. Zigmund to. You need a jury to determine who's telling the truth."

Mary Jo Murphy, spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese has not seen the complaint and could not comment. This is the second lawsuit filed against the Diocese of St. Petersburg since this year's wave of scandal hit the American Catholic Church.

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