First AME Fires Back at Former Employee Who Claims Inappropriate Sexual Conduct by Pastor
Leaders of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (First AME) have filed a countersuit against a former employee who claims she was the victim of inappropriate sexual conduct at the hands of the current pastor of the house of worship, which is well known in the local faith community.
First AME is claiming that former executive minister Brenda Lamothe has committed extortion, violation of privacy, and conspiracy against Pastor John Hunter. Lamothe had also filed a lawsuit claiming that Hunter gave her jewelry and had inappropriate sexual relations with her.
Church officials gathered at a press conference of the house of worship on Nov. 5, when trustee Constance Fortune read from a three-page prepared statement announcing that First AME's board "fully supports Pastor John" and have decided to join him and his wife "as plaintiffs in our own lawsuit against Mrs. Lamothe."
Church officials said that they first learned of Lamothe's accusations when her attorney mentioned that she possessed love letters from Hunter. The attorney allegedly "demanded a monetary settlement or he would go to the media," according to the church's statement. Lamothe filed a lawsuit against the Hunters and the church on Nov. 3, asking for monetary and punitive damages based on alleged sexual harassment and wrongful discharge.
Both Hunter and his wife "immediately recognized these notes as their own personal communication they had shared with each other as husband and wife," the church's statement said. In response to a perceived extortion attempt, the Hunters and the church filed the countersuit against Lamothe, also on Nov. 3. As part of its complaint filed with the L.A. Superior Court, the church included a three-paragraph resignation letter that Lamothe allegedly submitted to Hunter on Sept. 10, 2008.
"I am grateful to Rev. (Cecil) Murray and Pastor John for both their dynamic ministries, different and similar at the same time," Lamothe apparently wrote in letter.
Lamothe apparently remained as a part-time employee of the church, her resignation letter nothwithstanding.
Lamothe began working for First AME as director of memberships in August 1997, according to her complaint. In 1999 she was promoted to director of community services. She became administrative assistant to the Rev. Cecil Murray in 2001. When Murray retired in 2004, she became Hunter's executive assistant, and in 2006 was promoted to executive minister.
Lamothe's suit alleges the sexual harassment began about April 2005, when Hunter initiated a relationship involving "hugging and kissing."
Lamothe "resisted as best as she could, but Pastor John insisted that it was 'God's will' that she comfort him," according to her complaint. She "relented" and "repeatedly" provided Hunter with "sexual services upon his request, through about Sept. 28, 2008," the complaint alleged.
The First AME statement contended that "Lamothe also claims that Pastor John gave her jewelry, which is no surprise to anyone. Pastor John routinely brings jewelry as gifts for church executives and ministers when he returns from his trips."
The Hunters and the church are also bringing attention to the timing of Lamothe's allegations, which come more than a year after the alleged resignation letter.
Lamothe "was well known and had many friends" at First AME, while "Pastor John was the newcomer," according to the statement, in which church officials state that they, "simply can't believe that instead of telling her friends she was being mistreated ... she kept quiet for years."
First AME has retained a public relations firm known for crisis communications, Sitrick and Co., a representative of which was at the press conference.
Church officials would not answer questions at the conference.
Voice messages left for Lamothe and her attorney have not been returned.
Slav Kandyba is a writer for the L.A. Watts Times.
Photo of First AME Church from www.famechurch.org; photo of First AME Church press briefing from L.A. Watts Times.
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