A self-identified witch was pressured to resign from her post as dean of the communications school at St. Bonaventure University in western New York because of her Wiccan faith, she claims in a new lawsuit.
Pauline Hoffman, 49, who served as dean for eight years, claims she was discriminated against on the basis of sex and religion, according to the 9-page complaint she filed May 28 in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of New York.
Hoffmann is a self-described “data nerd” and “gentlewoman farmer” who co-owns an organic body-care company with her sister, and attended the Catholic university as an undergrad, she told The Daily Beast on Friday. Her lawsuit was first covered by The Buffalo News.
Hoffman said that discrimination began after she told her boss that she planned to speak about Wicca with the student television station in October 2011.
“As the dean of the school of communications, I wanted to support the student media,” she said. “They wanted to have a witch’s perspective on Halloween.”
Afterward, then-Provost Michael Fischer asked Hoffmann to sign a document “vowing to uphold Catholic values,” according to the complaint.
Hoffman allegedly responded by asking, “If I were Jewish would I have to sign this?”
He replied, according to the complaint, “If you were Jewish, then I guess not.”
In another incident, Fischer allegedly told Hoffman that she “might not want to be so overt about being a witch” if she wanted “to move up.”
Hoffman said she has been a practicing Wiccan “outright” for about 20 years.
“It really resonated with me that it’s a very nature-based religion,” she said. “It’s very dichotomous. You have the female and male god and goddess. Your fate is in your own hands. And our credo is essentially ‘Do what you will but harm none.’”
Hoffmann also claims she was told by Sister Margaret Carney, who then served as president of the university, that she “took a big chance hiring you as a Wiccan.” Later, a colleague allegedly told her that “Sister Margaret really has it in for you.”
Hoffmann was denied a promotion and was pressured to resign as dean after Joe Zimmer, the new provost, was told to “solve the Pauline problem,” according to her lawsuit.
“I was shocked at first and then really upset,” Hoffman said Friday. “I was angry. I couldn’t believe I was being treated like this.”
“For me, it’s a way of living and a way of looking at the world and a way of interacting with other people and a way of finding comfort and peace within myself,” she added. “It’s probably not different from the way other people would describe their own religion.”
Hoffman believes that she was most likely discriminated against based on negative stereotypes about Wiccans.
“Do I ride a broom or sacrifice animals or worship Satan?” she said, explaining that she, in fact, does none of those things. “I don’t worship Satan. There are witches who practice black magic, but I’m not one of them. It’s a fear of what you don’t know.”
Before her lawsuit last month, Hoffmann—who still works at the university as an associate professor in the communications department and dean of the school of graduate studies—filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February.
“I love my job, I love the students, I love what we do,” Hoffman noted, but she also said she “knew that if I didn’t stand up I’d always regret it.”
“I don’t want this to happen to other people,” she added. “I don’t want other people to have to face this kind of discrimination.”
Hoffmann claimed in her complaint that, due to the alleged discrimination, she “experienced loss of income, fear, anxiety, severe humiliation, shame, embarrassment, emotional pain and suffering, loss of savings, and loss of enjoyment of life.”
She is seeking lost wages and benefits, damages for pain and suffering, reimbursed medical costs for therapy, and to be reinstated in her former job.
Tom Missel, a spokesman for St. Bonaventure, said the school would not comment on the case because it is “both a personnel and legal matter.”