Local News

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

Posted March 11, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

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

The award comes one day after the jury found unanimously that the Rev. Ed Privette committed assault 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 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Privette testified last week that he was an "indiscriminate hugger" and he claimed that his contact with the women was innocent. His lawyers argued that the women concocted the harassment charges because he gave them unfavorable job reviews.

The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church disciplined Privette after the women's suit was filed, suspending him for 60 days with pay, ordering him to receive counseling and placing a warning letter in his personnel file.

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

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