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July 26, 10

NEWS / Division on Civil Rights Announces Settlement in Case of Pastor and Church Accused of Sexual Harassm

TRENTON – The Division on Civil Rights announced today that a Mercer County pastor and his church have agreed to pay a former church employee $50,000 to resolve allegations the woman was sexually harassed by the pastor and then fired after reporting his alleged conduct to church officials.

Under terms of the agreement, Respondents Reverend John H. Harris, Jr. and the Galilee Baptist Church of Trenton are to pay former church secretary Minnie Davis the settlement amount in 12 monthly installments of $4,166.66. The first installment was paid last month. In addition, Rev. Harris and Galilee Baptist will pay the Division $7,500 to cover administrative costs and a fee in lieu of statutory penalties. The agreement also requires the church to establish clear, written anti-discrimination and harassment policies, and to designate a representative to receive and investigate any complaints made under the policy. Under the settlement there is no admission of liability by either Respondent.

“This is a fair settlement to resolve very troubling allegations of sexual harassment and reprisal,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Chinh Q. Le. “No employee should be forced to tolerate unwanted sexual advances, or be fired for having complained about the harassment.”

Minnie Davis was hired by Galilee Baptist as a secretary in 1997, and her job description was later expanded to that of secretary/church clerk in 1999. In interviews with the Division on Civil Rights, Davis claimed to have had a consensual relationship with Rev. Harris that began in 2001, but said she broke it off in 2003 and made clear she wanted no further involvement. Despite her repeated statements disavowing any interest in him, Davis alleged, Rev. Harris continued for years to pressure her in the workplace.

In March 2008, Davis sent a memo to the deacons and trustees of Galilee Baptist accusing Rev. Harris of repeatedly propositioning her, touching her inappropriately and other harassing actions. She also reported that, as a result of her rejection of his overtures, Rev. Harris took retaliatory action such as minimizing her work duties, requiring her to provide 30 days notice when seeking time off and implying that she was stealing.

Rev. Harris and the church have denied all of Davis’ allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, and Rev. Harris has denied any prior consensual relationship with Davis.

However, the Division on Civil Rights conducted its own preliminary investigation and, on that basis, issued a Finding of Probable Cause against Rev. Harris and Galilee Baptist in 2009.

According to the Finding of Probable Cause, the church assigned its own attorney to investigate Davis’ sexual harassment and other charges. During that investigation, church leaders relieved Davis of most of her job responsibilities – ostensibly to keep her from coming into contact with Rev. Harris. Ultimately, the church claimed it found no evidence to support Davis’ accusations, and Davis was subsequently terminated for “insubordination and neglect.”

The Division’s own investigation found that two Galilee congregants other than Minnie Davis had complained of sexual harassment in the past and that at least one deacon had left the church over Rev. Harris’ alleged conduct. The Division also found that Galilee lacked a written policy prohibiting sexual harassment or any other form of bias-based discrimination in the workplace during Minnie Davis’ employment, and lacked written procedures for employees to report sexual harassment or other types of discrimination. The church also had no written protocol for management to follow in dealing with harassment complaints, and church managers did not make a practice of documenting reports of sexual harassment or bias-based discrimination.

Investigation of the Galilee Baptist matter was conducted by Division on Civil Rights Investigator Artherine Price and supervised by Lorraine LeSter, manager of the Division’s Trenton office. Deputy Attorney General Anne Marie Kelly provided legal advice and assistance during the investigation. Division on Civil Rights Staff Attorney Estelle Bronstein provided assistance in preparing the initial Finding of Probable Cause. Division Conciliator Ana Limo-Magras and Deputy Attorney General Charles Cohen assisted in resolving the matter and preparing the Consent Order and Decree.


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