Abusive Priest's Past Employer on the Hook
(CN) - An Ohio church that failed to report an abusive priest owes damages to the teenager he victimized at his next parish, a state appeals court ruled.
Jessica Simpkins said she was 15 when Brian Williams, the senior pastor at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church, raped her in March 2008. Williams was sent to prison for eight years for two counts of sexual battery.
Before Williams was Sunbury's pastor, he was the youth pastor at Grace Brethren Church in Delaware, Ohio.
After settling her lawsuit against Sunbury for $90,000, Simpkins sued Delaware Grace and Pastor Darrell Anderson for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of emotional distress and failing to report child abuse.
Simpkins alleged that in the early 1990s, Delaware Grace had learned that Williams had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor female but failed to take action.
Delaware Grace had also allegedly learned in 2001 that Williams had inappropriately touched a woman that he was counseling.
Simpkins claimed that Delaware Grace gave its support and guidance to the installation of Williams as the pastor at Sunbury.
A judge dismissed all of the claims against Anderson and most of the claims against Delaware Grace, but Delaware Grace faced a trial on the the negligent hiring and recommendation count.
April Brown testified in those proceedings about the early 1990s incident, stating that Williams had inappropriately rubbed her back at a concert when she was a teenager.
Robin Weixel testified about the second incident, stating when she was 18, Williams told her about his sex life with his wife and said he could get away with having sex with the teenager in his office, if not for his conscience.
Williams also used his finger to trace the outside of Weixel's tank top, she testified.
Testimony from Williams himself affirmed these allegations. He said that Delaware Grace supported his installation as pastor of the church it was planting in Sunbury.
Simpkins testified that Williams raped her at the age of 15 during a counseling session. She said she thinks about the incident two or three times a week, is afraid of the dark and has trust issues with men.
The trial court ruled for Simpkins, and the Ohio's 5th Appellate District on Aug. 8 shot down the church's claim that Williams' past misconduct did not make his rape of Simpkins foreseeable.
"The two prior incidents which Delaware Grace became aware of both consisted of sexual misconduct and involved minor females being supervised or counseled by Williams as a church employee either at the church or a church camp," Judge W.S. Gwin wrote for the court. "In light of this similar prior conduct, we find the totality of the circumstances indicates that a reasonable jury could have found that Delaware Grace should have reasonably foreseen the 2008 incident."
In a partial reversal for Simpkins, the court found that punitive damages may be available.
"Reasonable minds could differ on whether Delaware Grace's conduct demonstrated a conscious disregard for Simpkins' rights and safety having a greater probability of substantial harm such that the issue of punitive damages may be submitted to the jury," the ruling states.
The trial court must apportion liability between Williams and Delaware Grace, the court found.