Settlement hearing set in Mississippi church sex suit

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press

JACKSON — A settlement conference has been scheduled in a federal lawsuit in which a former megachurch employee in Mississippi says she was sexually harassed by her pastor.

Jamila Slaughter sued Word of Faith International Christian Center and Bishop Kevin Wright in June 2011. Word of Faith was founded in Detroit in 1978 and has more than 30 satellite churches, including the one where Slaughter and Wright worked in Jackson, Miss., according to its website.

The settlement conference is scheduled for April 10 in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

An attorney for the church, Charles R. Wilbanks Jr., said Friday that he had no comment on the lawsuit.

Slaughter’s attorney, Carlos Moore, said this will be the second time the parties have met in a settlement conference.

“We’re hopeful it will be resolved, but we’re taking the case seriously and if it’s not resolved we will see Kevin Wright and Word of Faith representatives at trial on Aug. 12,” Moore said.

Wright’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message. A message left at the Jackson church was not immediately returned.

Slaughter alleged in the lawsuit that Wright made unwanted sexual advances from December 2008 to October 2009 while she worked at the Jackson church as an administrative assistant and receptionist.

The lawsuit said the advances began during a mission trip to South Africa in 2008 when Wright told Slaughter she needed an older man to take care of her and her children. Wright was married with five children, the lawsuit said.

After returning from the trip, the lawsuit said, Wright called Slaughter into his office On Dec. 18, 2008, and kissed her on the mouth. The lawsuit says Slaughter told Wright his advances were unwelcome, but they continued for months, with him touching her, writing her notes and buying her a blouse on one occasion.

Slaughter said in her lawsuit that the propositions continued even after she and her mother met with Wright to discuss the matter and the bishop admitted to his behavior.

“When Slaughter saw that Bishop Wright did not understand the meaning of ‘no,’ and that church officials were not able to put an end to Bishop Wright’s unlawful conduct, she decided to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” her lawsuit said.

The EOEC said in a March 2011 determination letter that evidence supported Slaughter’s allegations.

Wright had also been hounded by allegations of financial mismanagement. The church said in a statement in September 2010 that Wright had been replaced “due to his moral failure.”

Click video to hear audio