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Sept. 1 – Lessons to be learned: Atlanta church agrees to pay $25,000 to settle EEOC Retaliation lawsuit

Coastal Empire News Staff Report

September 1, 2016 - The King’s Way Baptist Church, Inc., an independent Baptist church in Douglasville, Ga. which operates the King’s Way Christian School, will pay $25,000 and furnish other relief to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced Wednesday.

EEOC filed suit in 2015 alleging that King’s Way retaliated against Marsha Pearson, a kindergarten teacher at the school, after she complained about sexual harassment. According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, in October 2013 Pearson complained that the pastor, who was also the school superintendent, had been sexually harassing her. EEOC further alleged that when Pearson complained about the harassment, King’s Way officials told her that she allowed the harassment to happen to her and that she was being discharged. EEOC charged that Pearson was actually fired because she reported sexual harassment. 

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to retaliate against an employee because he or she complains about discrimination.

EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. The King’s Way Baptist Church, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-3816-WBH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process.

Pearson filed her own individual lawsuit against King’s Way for violations of Title VII and for negligent retention (Marsha Anne Pearson v. Dr. William Wininger, Jr., Joes Hayman, Dr. Ray Conway, The King’s Way Baptist Church, Inc., and The King’s Way Christian School, Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-3849), which was consolidated with EEOC’s lawsuit. Pearson’s individual lawsuit has also been resolved. 

In addition to providing monetary relief for Pearson, the consent decree settling EEOC’s lawsuit requires King’s Way to update its discrimination policies, provide annual equal employment opportunity training, make regular reports to EEOC, and post a notice to employees regarding King’s Way’s obligation to comply with all federal anti-discrimination laws.  

“This case is a good reminder to employers that complaints of discrimination must be treated seriously,” said Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director of EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “Blaming the victim when she reports harassment is never the right response and can create liability for the company.”  

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.   

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