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Jury Awards $420,000 in Damages to Women Who Sued Pastor for Assault

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RALEIGH — A Wake County jury awarded$420,000 in damages Tuesday to two former female church employees who suedthe pastor for unwanted hugs, kisses and touches.

The award comes oneday after the jury found unanimously that the Rev. Ed Privette committedassault and battery on Debbie Smith, 36, and Tracy Newman, 27. Privette,48, is the senior pastor at White Plains Methodist Church in Cary.

The jury rejected an assault and battery claim filed by Cathy Cahall.

On Tuesday, the jury awarded Smith $240,000, Newman $180,000 incompensatory and punitive damages.

Privette testified last week that he was an "indiscriminatehugger" and heclaimed that his contact with the women was innocent. His lawyers arguedthat the women concocted the harassment charges because he gave themunfavorable job reviews.

The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Churchdisciplined Privette after the women's suit was filed, suspending him for60 days with pay, ordering him to receive counseling and placing a warningletter in his personnel file.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the court's decision to dismiss WhitePlains and the church conference from the suit.

Privette had countersued the women for libel and slander. The jury'sverdict prevents him from moving forward on a countersuit against Smithand Newman. He could decide to countersue Cahall.

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