February 26, 2005

Jury finds church not liable in sexual harassment case

ALABAMA
Decatur Daily

By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Staff Writer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

Central United Methodist Church's five-year nightmare ended jubilantly Friday when a federal jury decided it was not liable to a former secretary for sexual harassment.

For Rita Cobbs, however, the ruling brought to an abrupt end her lengthy trek toward an elusive verdict.

The jury reached the unanimous decision Friday after deliberating for about two hours.

Cobbs accused Central of failing to protect her from a part-time minister who she said physically assaulted her in 1999 and repeatedly targeted her with obscene phone calls until March 2000.

Central did not dispute the misconduct of the Rev. Sheats Summerford, a 78-year-old man who worked as a visitation minister. The church did dispute, however, that the Rev. Hal Noble, Central's senior pastor at the time, failed in his supervisory duties.

The Rev. Mitchell Williams, now Central's senior pastor, sat through most of the trial with two dozen church members. After the verdict, he said that he had expected the church to prevail.

Posted by kshaw at February 26, 2005 01:55 AM