As a former librarian at the all-boys Archbishop Curley High School, Annette Goodman says she initially dismissed it as a rumor when she heard last year that a science teacher had sexual contact with a student.
But after a few conversations with the boy, Goodman came to suspect that the science teacher had sexually abused him, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Baltimore last week. Goodman eventually reported her suspicions to the school administration.
Baltimore Archdiocese officials say she didn't tell them soon enough, and the school fired her last year. The science teacher, Lynette Trotta, later pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree sex offense.
Now Goodman is suing the school and the archdiocese, alleging that officials retaliated against her and knew about inappropriate conduct by Trotta months before they disclosed it to the public.
Goodman says she heard what she thought was a rumor on March 6, 2014, but did not confirm it with the boy until March 18, according to the lawsuit.
She reported it to school administrators April 1.
When archdiocese officials issued a news release about the case and Trotta's suspension last year, they named Goodman in the release — a move Goodman and her attorney allege was retaliatory. They contend her reporting of the abuse was protected under federal law.
"She felt like they threw her under the bus because they knew that they didn't give the situation with Ms. Trotta the attention they should have beforehand," said Goodman's attorney, Linda Correia.
Trotta was eventually fired, according to the archdiocese. Neither Trotta nor her attorney could be reached to comment.
According to the lawsuit, Goodman did not know the proper procedures for reporting suspected abuse.
In a statement, archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said the archdiocese and its schools "conduct extensive training with all employees and volunteers on child abuse prevention and reporting."
"Employees know that Maryland state law and school policies require immediate reports to civil authorities followed by a written report within 48 hours of learning of a suspicion of child abuse," he said. "We do take disciplinary action if a school employee fails to report suspicions of child abuse immediately."
The archdiocese maintains that when Goodman told school leaders, those officials reported it to police the same afternoon.
"Ms. Goodman had not reported to civil authorities," Caine said. "We do not believe we should pay an award to someone who knowingly fails to report child abuse for weeks."
But Correia says school and archdiocese officials mishandled the situation.
"The way she was treated is why people don't report this kind of thing," she said.
Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, said the case highlights the need for better training and the failings of Maryland's law. People who are required by law to report suspected abuse include educators and health practitioners.
Maryland is one of only a few states that have no penalty for failing to report, Rosenberg said.
He also said other states have a single phone number to call to report suspected abuse, but Maryland has dozens, based on where someone lives.
"We've got a terrible system for reporting abuse," Rosenberg said.
In recent years, an increasing number of organizations that serve youths have requested training from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center on reporting rules, Rosenberg said.
"There's a need out there, and there's a hunger" from people who want to better understand the laws, he said.
When Trotta's sexual abuse case became public last year, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a national group, criticized Goodman for not reporting the abuse sooner.
But David Clohessy, director of the group, said he now believes Goodman was used as a scapegoat by her superiors.
"We're glad the librarian filed this suit, and we hope the whole truth will come out in court," Clohessy said. "This could provide a very fascinating window into exactly how a Catholic institution these days deals with abuse."