Dog 'doesn't like black people,' housekeepers are told as reason for not entering priest's house

The Diocese of Memphis said a claim of discrimination was "unfounded," and that the dog is "somewhat more agitated around strangers with darker skin."

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By Minyvonne Burke

Two housekeepers alleged discrimination when one of them was kept from cleaning a church rectory in Tennessee after church staff said the priest's dog "doesn't like black people."

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis concluded after investigating the incident that the women's claims of "racial bias and discrimination are unfounded" and that the priest "did nothing wrong," said the Rev. David P. Talley, bishop of Memphis, in an Aug. 16 letter.

The dispute arose when housecleaners Emily Weaver, who is white, and LaShundra Allen, who is black, went in May to the rectory of the Rev. Jacek Kowal of Catholic Church of the Incarnation in Collierville.

Weaver was planning to train Allen as her replacement for cleaning the building but when the women asked to enter they were turned away by parish staff who said Kowal's German shepherd was not in its crate and "doesn't like black people," according to a letter the women sent to the diocese that was obtained by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Weaver and Allen said they were shocked and humiliated by the incident.

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“It made me feel so bad as a person," Allen told the newspaper. “I believe they need to lose their jobs," she said of parish staff. "I don’t see how they can be around — and mind you that school has black kids in that school, kids of various colors in that school. How are you OK teaching kids of color but not OK with someone of color cleaning your house?”

The women were seeking a settlement for damages and attorney's fees and for Kowal to be disciplined, the Commercial Appeal reported.

NBC News was not able to immediately reach Maureen Holland, an attorney representing the women, for comment.

The bishop said in the diocese's written response that a parish staff member told Weaver and Allen that she was concerned about them entering the rectory because Kowal's dog, named Ceaser, "is kind of racist."

"Although the parish staff member’s choice of words was highly unfortunate and imprecise — they were not motivated by racial animus," the diocese's letter said. "Rather, the concern by all involved was the safety of these women, one of whom was a stranger to the dog, and they knew that attempting to crate the dog would be dangerous when its owner was not present."

The dog "had been threatened" in the past by a black person and was "somewhat more agitated initially around strangers with darker skin," the letter said, adding that Kowal was busy at a Mass that morning and had concerns that Ceaser would bite if he was not present to properly introduce the dog to Allen.

The diocese said Kowal's handling of the situation "would have been the same" regardless of the person's race.

"The cleaning company employees interpreted this incident as a pretext by Fr. Kowal, motivated by a desire not to have an African American housekeeper. This is simply not true," the Diocese said, adding that Kowal had a black housekeeper in the past.

The bishop concluded the letter by stating that "all forms of racial discrimination are sinful and wrong."

The diocese could not be immediately reached for comment.