HOUSTON – A former employee of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and School has filed a lawsuit against her former supervisor and employer, alleging he sexually abused her for months at work and church leaders responded with retaliation when she reported him.
The former church employee, Jane Doe, is a single mother who claims she endured months of sexual abuse and was afraid to tell anyone for fear of losing her job, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.
Most of the assaults allegedly happened in her former supervisor’s office behind closed doors.
“She just was in a state of shock and terror and disbelief that this was happening to her,” Jane Doe’s attorney Jessica Dent of The Buzbee Law Firm told KPRC 2.
KPRC 2 is not naming the former supervisor because he has not been criminally charged, but the Houston Police Department confirmed Friday evening that the Special Victims Division is investigating the case, initially reported in May.
Jane Doe worked in the accounting department for two years and after being hired, her supervisor allegedly told her “school policy requires the staff to take new employees to dinner” and that she “should wear a nice dress.”
When she arrived, it was a table for two and the supervisor allegedly purchased a $700 bottle of wine using the school’s credit card, according to the lawsuit. He later allegedly told her he had a “sex addiction.”
“He only started giving her verbal red flags, making sexual comments whenever he needed to,” Dent said. “He was married and his disputes with with his wife seemed to trigger some of his predation on my client.”
His behavior allegedly escalated into forcing her to have sex with him, sometimes threatening her employment status if she didn’t comply.
“At other times he carried knives with him and he would hold her at knife point and force her to have sex with him,” Dent said.
Jane Doe reported him to church leaders after two months of the abuse, but they allegedly didn’t let him go until a couple of weeks later.
Instead of conducting a sexual violence investigation, the church initiated an accounting audit, which isn’t how it should have been handled, Dent said, citing the church’s policies.
Instead of a conversation with Jane Doe about what happened, church leaders allegedly treated her with suspicion and questioned her qualifications for the role.
“School officials attempted to use the accounting investigation to release Doe from employment,” the lawsuit claims.
KPRC 2 contacted two church leaders by phone Friday night. One of them didn’t have a comment and the other, despite answering text messages and confirming his employment with the church, wouldn’t answer phone calls.
“Churches hold themselves out to be kind parts of the community that are meant to protect people,” Dent said.
According to St. Stephen’s website, the church had the first woman rector in Texas in 1981.
Jane Doe, who has a new job now, hopes her story is one that empowers other women if their sexual abuse complaints aren’t addressed.
“There’s always a way for you to seek justice and perhaps change that and keep that from happening to someone else in the future,” Dent said. “The lawsuit is seeking accountability and hopefully change within the institution so that if something like this were to happen again, they would follow their own policies and procedures and they would handle that individual who is coming forward to them saying that she feels victimized with a little bit more thoughtfulness and care.”
Records show St. Stephen’s Church and School has not yet been officially served, and no answer to the lawsuit has been filed.