COLUMBIA — A western Missouri church and a nonprofit that were sued by a woman who said she was sexually abused by a man who worked for both groups said the woman's parents should be held partially responsible.
The lawsuit followed an October 2009 guilty plea by Michael J. Landy, who prosecutors said abused the girl over a four-year period starting when she was 13. Landy, 58, of St. Joseph, was sentenced to seven years in prison, with all but 120 days suspended, and five years of probation.
Landy was a regional director of OATS Inc., a statewide nonprofit based in Columbia that provides transportation for the elderly, rural residents and people with disabilities. Landy also worked as a youth minister with the New Life Bible Church of Easton, an evangelical church in St. Joseph.
His victim claims that some of the abuse occurred on property owned by the nonprofit between 1995 and 1999, while she was a teenager. The woman sued the church and OATS in February, saying they didn't adequately supervise Landy.
But both the church and OATS argued in court documents that her parents should be held partially responsible because they breached their duty by negligently putting their daughter under Landy's supervision. The groups asked a Buchanan County Circuit Court judge to add the woman's parents and father-in-law as third-party defendants.
On Monday, the judge agreed.
"The parents are 100 percent responsible for their minor children," the church's attorney, Patrick McGrath, said on Wednesday. "If you cannot account for the conduct of your minor child, you are a deficient parent."
The woman's attorney, Rebecca Randles, said the decision amounts to blaming the victim. She plans to appeal the ruling.
"They want to be able to go in front of the jury and have them assign some of the blame so they don't have to pay as much money," she said.
Randles said the parents left their daughter in Landy's care while they traveled on church mission trips and remain devout followers of the church, so "essentially, the parents are going to have to choose between their daughter and their faith."
OATS' executive director, Linda Yaeger, said the decision to involve the woman's parents was not easy. Yaeger said the fallout from Landy's arrest was "horribly painful" and her organization never suspected misconduct. Landy worked for the group for 34 years, and Yaeger said she directly supervised him for most of that time.
"How far does an employer's responsibility go?" she said. "I don't know much about the sexual activities of any employee. Certainly, a parent would know more about what was going on than I do."
That stance has led a St. Louis-based support group for victims of church sex abuse to publicly appeal for OATS donors to cease their contributions.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it also plans to file a protest with the federal and state agencies that provide government support to OATS, which serves about 35,000 to 40,000 Missouri residents.
"Our goal isn't to hurt OATS," said SNAP director David Clohessy. "Our goal is to persuade them to act more compassionately toward a wounded woman who was sexually violated as a child and to make other defendants think long and hard before they use mean-spirited, intimidating legal maneuvers to evade responsibility."
Both lawsuits name the victim, her parents and others, but The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.