February 23, 2005

Church sexual harassment trial starts with prayer

Decatur Daily

By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Staff Writer
efleischauer@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

While Central United Methodist Church members prayed in their church Tuesday morning, their accuser read the Bible in a dimly lit and empty federal courtroom.

Later, as the first day of a sexual harassment trial began, lawyers for plaintiff Rita Cobbs and defendant Central outlined their case to eight jurors in a Decatur courtroom. Judge R. David Proctor of Birmingham presided.

Cobbs, who filed suit in June 2001, alleged that the Rev. Sheats Summerford, a part-time pastor responsible for visiting home-bound and hospitalized members, harassed her while he worked at Central in 1998, and continued harassing her after his retirement in 1999 and 2000.

Cobbs' lawyer told the jury that Summerford grabbed his client's breasts on more than one occasion, propositioned her in person and by telephone, and threatened to get her fired if she complained.

Posted by kshaw at February 23, 2005 07:46 AM