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.
"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.
"The matter is in court and I...can't say anything about it," saidBishop John Hurst Adams, senior bishop of the 2.5-million-member AMEChurch.
Fletcher said McFadden-Weaver would not have carried out the suit ifWilliams and other church officials had apologized.
"All she wanted was an apology and for P.A. Williams to be moved,"Fletcher said. "They moved him to Kansas City, Kan. That's what hispunishment was. Saundra said that's not good enough."
He said the parties to the suit may enter mediation in the next twomonths and if mediation is unsuccessful, oral arguments would be heardin an appellate court.
"We've made overtures to them and asked and told them that this is asituation that we think is pretty detrimental for the black church inparticular," Fletcher said. "They offered $300,000. We thought it wasfunny."
He said the offer, made by officials of the predominantly blackdenomination, came earlier this month.
Fletcher said most cases of this type are settled out of court.
"Most churches, frankly, once they get it, they step up to the plateand try to do something about it, at least from a cursory perspective,"he said. "Here, this church didn't do anything...The church does notget it."
Fletcher, who specializes in employment law and has dealt with othercases of sexual harassment in churches, said it is not unusual for himto defend a client like McFadden-Weaver.
"The abuse of women in churches...is maybe more prevalent than inthe workplace," he said. "It's almost a totalitarian situation in somechurches...She was saying no and reaching out...for protections andthey weren't there."