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Fired Catholic church choir director files racial discrimination lawsuit against diocese, parish

Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 14, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — In a newly filed federal lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, SS Columba-Brigid Catholic Church, and Fr. William Jud Weiksnar, the former choir director of Columba-Brigid Church says she was wrongfully terminated because of the color of her skin.

Linda Martin, who was the church's choir director for more than 30 years, was fired in June 2020. The lawsuit, filed by Martin's attorney Prathima Reddy, describes how Martin was terminated over the phone "because the music at the mass was not up to the standard required for the liturgy."

Within a week of her termination, Martin says a less qualified white woman replaced her as choir director. Martin feels that she has not been given an adequate explanation for why she was fired.

"I've worked with several priests, I've worked with bishops for the last 30 years," said Martin. "I have never had a complaint from any parishioner, anyone of authority. This all-of-the-sudden, last minute termination just caught me and everyone I worked with by surprise."

SS. Columba-Brigid is one of the few Catholic churches in Buffalo with a large Black population. Some say Weiksnar wanted more subdued music, consistent with predominantly white Catholic churches.

"We're led to believe he's moving in the direction of creating a predominantly white congregation and pushing out black members," said Reddy.

Last September, upset parishioners protested Martin's ouster. Some choir members even left the choir in an act of opposition.

"I feel that unfortunately racism isn't just black and white, it is also across the Catholic community," parishioner Linda Lewis told 7 Eyewitness News in September.

The Diocese of Buffalo did not respond to 7 Eyewitness News' request for comment. Last fall, around the time of the initial protest over Martin's termination, diocese spokesman Greg Tucker said in a statement, "The allegations pertaining to a personnel matter concerning an employee of SS Columba-Brigid Catholic Church are not something that we are able to discuss in any detail, given understandable privacy issues governing such matters. The Diocese of Buffalo takes very seriously these allegations, however, and will thoroughly investigate them with all appropriate individuals and protocols. The Diocese of Buffalo requires respect and fairness toward all employees and has zero tolerance for racism in any form."

Martin is seeking damages for the mental anguish, humiliation, and economic hardship she says she has suffered from the discrimination she faced.