A former fundraiser at the Survivors Network of those Abused
by Priests has sued her ex-employer, accusing the Chicago-based self-help
agency for victims of clergy sexual abuse of firing her after she exposed an
alleged kickback scheme between the Network and trial lawyers suing on behalf
of the victims.
Gretchen Rachel Hammond filed a retaliatory discharge
complaint on Jan. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court.
Hammond said SNAP — based in Chicago but with 50
regional chapters — hired her in 2011 as its development director, but fired
her two years later in February 2013 when she allegedly drew attention to what she alleged
were improper dealings between SNAP and attorneys.
In her complaint, Hammond alleged SNAP would refer “survivors as potential
clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against
the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the
attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received
direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”
She said those payments would come in the form of “donations”
from the attorneys.
She further alleged that when SNAP communicates with attorneys
regarding their lawsuits on behalf of abuse victims, it helps develop legal
strategies based on “what will generate the most publicity and fundraising
opportunities for SNAP.” Hammond also said she had access to emails in which
SNAP officials appeared to be referring clients and soliciting donations in the
same communication. Those approaches, she argued, violate federal regulations
regarding tax-exempt organizations.
“In reality, SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its
directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic
Church,” the complaint said, further noting that during Hammond’s tenure, SNAP
“did not have a single grief counselor or rape counselor on its payroll” and
never reached out to such counselors to put them in touch with survivors.
Hammond despite being a fundraiser, said she routinely took
calls from “distressed survivors” who “confided to her about their trauma.”
When she reported receiving these calls, Hammond said her superior told her “to simply not answer phone calls from survivors
seeking assistance and counseling.”
She also said SNAP officials, when traveling to The Hague in
2011 to file charges against Pope Benedict in International Criminal Court, used
money Hammond raised as development director “to pay for lavish hotels and
other extravagant travel expenses.” She also gave examples of when officials
spent money purportedly raised for abuse victims on SNAP’s own legal defense.
Hammond said she spent her time at SNAP streamlining its
donation-tracking software and donor list and worked to raise its Better
Business Bureau rating. In August 2012 SNAP raised her salary from $60,000 to
$66,000. However, she noted she was excluded from the internal audit process in
After she raised concerns about what she perceived as
kickbacks, Hammond said her work environment changed with new requests for
reporting to supervisors and copying them on all correspondence. As she
continued to collect evidence about what she considered illegalities, Hammond
said she experienced stress-induced mental and physical health issues.
After her termination, Hammond began working as a fundraiser
in May 2013 for the Reeling Film Festival, earning “substantially” less than
she did at SNAP and in September 2013 got a job as a journalist for the Windy
City Times making $24,000 a year.
In alleging retaliatory discharge, Hammond said SNAP cost
her lost wages during her three months of unemployment as well as diminished
wages. She said lead fundraisers for nonprofit agencies typically earn $60,000
to $80,000 a year. In addition to a jury trial, Hammond seeks compensatory
damages, plus attorney fees.
Hammond is represented in the matter by the firm of Siprut PC, of Chicago.