The former owners of a child day-care center at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New Middletown have sued the church and church officials.
They allege the officials breached the center’s lease and wrongly evicted the center’s owners because the center’s administrator married a man who was convicted of an attempted sex offense against a minor.
Besides the church, defendants are the Rev. Stephen Popovich, church pastor, and Bishop George V. Murry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
The civil lawsuit was filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court by Atty. David L. Engler on behalf of St. Paul’s Childcare Center and its former owners, Linda Davis, and her daughter, Nicole Davis Fairchild, both of Austintown.
The complaint, which demands a jury trial, seeks damages in excess of $75,000.
Father Popovich terminated the child-care center’s lease and barred Davis and her daughter from the premises Oct. 25, 2013, forcing the sale of the business “at a distressed cost,” and causing Davis Fairchild to lose her job as child-care administrator, the suit says.
The church and its pastor “joined in a mob-like rush of judgment to push plaintiff corporation out of business based upon irrelevant and untrue statements,” the complaint says.
The church and its pastor forced the sale of the business because Davis Fairchild married a man with a criminal past, the complaint alleges.
In July 2011, Davis Fair-child married Eric R. Fair-child, who had been sentenced by Judge Maureen A. Sweeney in December 2010 to five years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to attempted gross sexual imposition on a female minor.
The judge also fined Fairchild $1,000 and ordered him to serve the first year of the probation on electronically monitored house arrest. He must register annually as a sex offender for 15 years.
In April 2011, Judge Sweeney terminated his house arrest eight months early; and last month, visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny terminated his probation 18 months early.
Robert Fulton, a lawyer for the diocese, initially declined to comment on the merits of Engler’s complaint, except to say: “It will be defended.”
Engler said Eric Fairchild “had no role whatsoever” in the day-care center’s operation and that the center’s state license was never in jeopardy because of his conviction.
“These people are being punished because of the spouse of the daughter,” Engler said of his clients, adding that: “The day care was well-run and successful.”
Linda Davis, who owned 90 percent of the business, “was not given an opportunity to remedy the situation,” Engler said.
“It was very hurtful to the two women who had worked hard to operate the successful business,” Engler said of their eviction.
“Concerns were raised by parents of children attending the center, and the church responded with sensitivity and fairness to all parties involved,” Fulton later said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
The church leased space to the day-care center in a landlord-tenant relationship, and the church had no control over the center’s operation, he explained.
“The church exercised its contractual right to terminate the lease by giving 90 days written notice. There was no intent or motivation to punish anyone,” he added.