AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Douglasville church pays to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

After a kindergarten teacher at one of Georgia's oldest private Christian academies complained that the church pastor was grabbing, hugging and rubbing against her, she was fired. Officials at The King's Way Baptist Church told her that she allowed the sexual harassment to happen to her, according to a lawsuit filed by a federal agency.

Now, King's Way has agreed to pay $25,000 to teacher Marsha Pearson to settle the employment discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency said that the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to retaliate against an employee for complaining about discrimination.

Pearson had filed her own lawsuit, naming pastor William Wininger Sr., who was also the school superintendent, as among the defendants. That lawsuit was consolidated with the EEOC's. Wininger was arrested in 2014 by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office on misdemeanor charges of simple battery for unwanted physical contact. He later pleaded no contest to two counts and received probation.

He could not be reached for comment.

Baptist News reported in 2013 that he resigned from King's Way after allegations that he had sexually abused a child 18 years earlier at a Michigan church.

In addition to the payment to compensate Pearson, the consent agreement resolving the EEOC lawsuit requires King's Way to amend its policy on sexual harassment. The agreement also calls for allowing any employee who complains of discrimination to also provide his or her complaint directly to the Deacon Board. The church also must train employees annually on the requirements on anti-discrimination laws and the prohibition against sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.




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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.