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Associate Pastor Sues Church for Senior Pastor's Sexual Harassment
Employer is liable for supervisory employees' acts of harassment
New York

Employment practices

Key point 8-12.5. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It consists of both "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile environment" harassment. Religious organizations that are subject to Title VII are covered by this prohibition. An employer is automatically liable for supervisory employees' acts of harassment, but a defense is available to claims of hostile environment harassment if they have adopted a written harassment policy and an alleged victim fails to pursue remedies available under the policy. In some cases, an employer may be liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by nonsupervisory employees, and even nonemployees.

* A federal court in New York ruled that a church's associate pastor could sue the church as a result of the senior pastor's sexual harassment. A church employed an adult male (the "plaintiff) as a part-time pastor to assist the church's senior pastor. The plaintiff claimed that the senior pastor engaged in both sexual discrimination and sexual harassment against him. Specifically, he claimed that she: (1) changed the format of the service to restrict his participation and work responsibilities in weekly services and to increase the participation of a less senior female associate pastor; (2) limited his raises to the minimum allowed by denominational guidelines while at the same time giving the church's female associate pastor additional responsibilities and significant pay raises; (3) belittled and embarrassed him in front of other pastors and the congregation for his disabilities; (4) berated him in her office; and (5) sexually harassed him by complimenting his appearance, calling him "hot," saying how they would look good as a couple despite being asked to stop. The plaintiff alleged that he informed the church and a regional denominational agency of the abusive treatment but they failed to take any protective action. He further claimed that when he complained about the discrimination he was threatened with the loss of his pastoral license.

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