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$450K Settlement by Church that Failed to Screen Child Molester

priest in robes holding a cross and a teddy bear
A security expert established proof of the improper hiring, improper security and failure to supervise by the church.

Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia agreed to pay a $450,000 settlement because a church employee engaged in sexual intercourse with a 14-year old girl inside the church elevator on March 11, 2011, during non-work hours.

After the man “broke up” with the minor, she reported the incident to her father. The sexton, a 23-year old man, was convicted of statutory sexual assault and ordered to serve a probationary period of seven years.

The civil lawsuit against the church alleged that it failed to properly screen him before hiring him. If they had done so, prior employers would have indicated that he was unreliable.

Because no background investigation was performed, he was given all the keys to the church premises at 1013 Cottman Avenue and allowed 24-hour access to the church.  Further, the sexton regularly brought his adult girlfriend there and engaged in sexual acts with her on several occasions.

The plaintiff alleged that this proved the church failed to properly supervise the sexton, allowing him to use the premises for his own whims, knowing there would be no repercussions.  The plaintiff engaged nationally-renowned security expert, Norman Bates, to establish proof of the improper hiring, improper security and failure to supervise by the church.

Self-harming behaviors

The girl engaged in numerous self-harming behaviors, such as cutting and engaging in many sexual relations with older men who were strangers, after revealing the broken relationship.  She underwent extensive in-patient and out-patient psychological treatment and was eventually placed into a group home.

Plaintiff attorney Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta was prepared to present the testimony of rape trauma expert, Ann Burgess, to prove that the sexual relationship with the sexton caused the self-harming behaviors, including the risky sexual acting out with strangers.

Complicating the causation testimony of Ann Burgess was that the child's mother was a prostitute. The mother had been convicted and sentenced to jail for luring johns to motel rooms with the promise of sex, only to have a co-conspirator break into the room to rob the john.

The case resolved after a lengthy court-ordered settlement conference with volunteer Judge Pro Tem, Anthony Zarella, in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The case is Jane Doe vs. Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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