AME Fighting Multimillion Dollar Harassment Suit

A Kansas City jury has sided with a former pastor's claims against a leader of the predominantly black denomination

WASHINGTON, May 29 (RNS)--The African Methodist Episcopal Church has posted a$4.5-million appeal bond in a Kansas City, Mo., court five months afterbeing found liable in a sexual harassment case against a presiding elderof the denomination.

Saundra McFadden-Weaver, a former pastor of the denomination, suedthe church and Elder P. Albert Williams, claiming he sexually harassedher. She won the case in December when a jury rendered a verdict in herfavor and ordered Williams to pay her $1 million in punitive damages andthe church, its board of incorporators and Bishop Vernon Byrd, leader ofthe denomination's Fifth Episcopal District, to pay her $5 million inpunitive damages.

In March, Judge Lee E. Wells of the Jackson County Circuit Courtlowered the $5 million figure to $4 million, sustaining a motion fromthe church.

The appeal bond amount of $4.5 million includes interest that isexpected to accrue during the appeal process.

Brian Madden, a Kansas City lawyer representing the denomination,confirmed that the bond was posted on May 16. If the AME Church losesthe case on appeal and does not reach some other agreement throughmediation, it must pay the amount of the bond to McFadden-Weaver.

Michael Fletcher, lawyer for McFadden-Weaver, said "substantialassets" of the church were frozen for a month before the appeal bond wasposted. Madden would not confirm that assets were frozen.

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"We do not consider it appropriate to comment upon the facts of theunderlying litigation while the church's appeal is pending before theMissouri Court of Appeals," Madden said in a statement provided toReligion News Service. "We do, however anticipate that the judgmentagainst all defendants in this matter will be reversed."

Fletcher said McFadden-Weaver suffered "year after year ofharassment" from Williams, a presiding elder over churches that includedher Mariah Walker AME Church in Kansas City.

"He consistently was touching her," Fletcher said. "She'd push himaway."

He said the "final straw" for her client was when Williams gropedher breasts in the church.

"She then complained about that breast grabbing," said Fletcher."Four months later, she was excommunicated, 12 days before Christmas."

After her 1996 dismissal, McFadden-Weaver started anondenominational church, Community Outreach Christian Fellowship Churchin Kansas City.

Church officials also declined to comment on the details of thecase.

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Adelle M. Banks
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