Woman Sues New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Sexual Harrassment Complaint

By Jon Shirek
11 Alive
October 15, 2010

[with video]

ATLANTA, Ga. -- New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is facing another lawsuit.

Tama Colson, a married woman who worked at the church for twelve years, filed suit against the church on Wednesday in Atlanta Federal Court, accusing a manager of the church, a man, of sexual harrassment against her and other women of the church, and accusing church leaders of doing nothing to stop it. Colson is demanding unspecified punitive damages against New Birth.

The church manager she is accusing, Michael Ceaser (Colson does not name Ceaser as a defendant, Colson names only the church as the defendant), has filed his own lawsuit against Colson.

A church spokesman said Thursday that the church is investigating Colson's complaints.

Also, this latest sexual misconduct lawsuit against New Birth does not specifically name the church's pastor, Bishop Eddie Long.

Long is already a defendant, along with New Birth, in four lawsuits filed by young men of the church who accuse Long of coercing them, when they were teens, into homosexual relationships, accusations that Long and the church are fighting.

In Colson's lawsuit against New Birth, Colson says that at the church in October, 2009, Ceaser held up his cell phone to her and showed Colson "a picture of ... Ceaser's penis. Plaintiff was horrified and asked Ceaser, 'what the hell is your problem.' Ceaser simply grinned and walked away."

And that incident, Colson says in her lawsuit, was the beginning of months of sexual harrassment that he inflicted on her, "a campaign of torment," she calls it.

She says she immediately reported the Oct., 2009 incident to the church's director of security, Patrick Simmons.

"Simmons advised Plaintiff that Ceaser had engaged in improper behavior with other women at New Birth, and that the church's leadership did not discipline Ceaser for his improper behavior but ran the women out of the church. Plaintiff was afraid that this would happen again. In fact, Ceaser has engaged in improper behavior with numerous female workers and congregants of New Birth, and even though New Birth was advised of his troublesome behavior, the church took no action to curb his behavior. This behavior included sending at least one other woman a picture of his penis, slapping the bottoms of women working in his department and using church video equipment to record his sexual encounters."

Colson says in her lawsuit that Simmons brought Colson's complaint directly to Tony Render, "Bishop Eddie Long's personal bodyguard," who, according to the lawsuit, told Simmons that "the church's elders would simply protect Ceaser and cover up the problem with his behavior just as they had done before."

Colson says as she continually tried to avoid and rebuff Ceaser, no one in authority at the church would intervene to help her. She says that on August 8, 2010, despite nothing but "positive reviews" in her personnel file, Ceaser told her she was being demoted.

Church leaders, she says, increasingly treated her as if she were the troublemaker.

On September 17, 2010, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On Sept. 22, she says, the church fired her, and the next day, according to court records, Ceaser personally filed a lawsuit against her.

Colson then filed her lawsuit against the church on Oct. 13.

11Alive News was unable, Thursday night, to contact attorneys involved in both lawsuits for comment, or to obtain a copy of Ceaser's lawsuit, to find out what his specific complaints against Colson are.

A spokesman for New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Art Franklin, emailed a statement to 11Alive News on Thursday:

"New Birth has a strict policy against sexual harrassment that requires employees to report the complaint within 48 hours of the abuse. Tama Colson's complaint allegedly happened in October of 2009. Although Tama Colson was aware of the New Birth sexual harassment policy, she did not make her complaint known to New Birth authorities until August of this year. New Birth moved swiftly to launch an investigation that is ongoing."

But Colson says in her lawsuit that church leaders condoned Ceaser's conduct against her, so she didn't know who to complain to other than the church's director of security, Patrick Simmons.

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