A judge’s ruling Thursday could expand a lawsuit against Calvary Church, which is accused by more than a dozen families of discriminating against students with disabilities or other conditions.
Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour of Concord ordered the prominent south Charlotte church to turn over school files for 14 families who claim that their preschool-aged children were denied admission or forced to leave Calvary’s child-development center due to real or perceived medical problems.
The lawsuit was filed by two families in January 2016 but has since grown to five. Calvary wanted to limit the exchange of evidence in the case to the families whose names are on the lawsuit.
The judge’s order, however, expands so-called “discovery” to nine additional families who have filed affidavits in the case claiming that their children also were wrongfully singled out.
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The families’ attorney, Josh Van Kampen, said Thursday that with access to more church records, he expects the number of families coming forward with similar complaints against the church “to grow by several multiples.”
“Calvary Church is ‘the castle on the hill’ in our community,” Van Kampen said. “When you have an entity that prominent and that rich that ignores the law, it’s a stain on the community. It’s a stain we’re trying to wipe out. We want Calvary to abide by disability laws.”
The church’s attorney, Mel Garafalo of Charlotte, described Thursday’s ruling as a “routine discovery matter,” and said the judge “did what he thought was right.” He declined other comment. In the past, Garafalo has dismissed the claims against the church as baseless.
Calvary, one of the city’s largest and best known suburban congregations, offers preschool or daycare for about 850 students at its campus along N.C. 51.
In a hearing last year, attorneys for the families claimed that Pat Collins, the longtime director of the church’s popular child-development center, had boasted that the facility prepares students for the finest private schools in Charlotte and did not have time to deal with children with extensive medical needs.
After the ruling, Van Kampen said the issue at stake is whether Calvary had “a pattern or practice” of discrimination against children. With greater access to Calvary’s school databases, teacher rosters and other evidence, he said, parents and the court will now find out.
“We expect many more families to come forward now,” Van Kampen said. “We want to follow where the evidence takes us.”