Worker sues Salvation Army in $1 million sexual harassment claim

09/17/2013 12:08 AM

09/17/2013 5:37 AM

A longtime female employee of The Salvation Army’s Modesto Citadel Corps has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the religious nonprofit and one of its former corps officers, seeking $1 million in damages.

Lodi attorney Mark Charles Bowman filed the lawsuit Friday in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of Kimberlea Rea, 48, who has worked as a bookkeeper and human resources assistant at the Modesto Citadel Corps since 2006.

The lawsuit names The Salvation Army and Capt. Michael Paugh, 53, as defendants.

Paugh served as corps officer and Stanislaus County coordinator for about 21 months until he was demoted and reassigned in March after an investigation concluded he had harassed a female employee. Army officials declined to name the employee.

In March, army officials said the employee made a sexual harassment claim against Paugh in mid-December. Los Angeles attorney Dan Woods investigated the claim and confirmed some of the allegations.

The lawsuit claims Paugh sexually harassed Rea for about 18 months. The allegations include that Paugh talked to Rea about his and her sex life, repeatedly and inappropriately touched her, drove by her Modesto home, asked about her teenage children’s sex lives. commented about her appearance and frequently followed her around at work.

The lawsuit claims Rea’s co-workers and supervisors knew Paugh was harassing her but failed to report or stop his behavior in a timely fashion. Additionally, Rea claims that once her supervisors realized she would not quit her job, they became critical of her and intimated she should not have complained about Paugh because it reflected badly on her co-workers.

The lawsuit claims that before Paugh came to Modesto, Rea was well-liked by co-workers and had received good job reviews, which stated that she was a “valuable employee,” a “team player” and that “her integrity is beyond reproach.”

Woods said Monday that army officials took immediate steps as soon as Rea complained in mid-December about Paugh.

“The Salvation Army has and always has had policies prohibiting the sexual harassment of employees,” he said.

Wood said Rea has not suffered any consequences from complaining about Paugh. He said she is still employed with the Modesto Citadel Corps, performing the same job at the same pay.

Paugh and his wife, Maj. Beth Paugh, were reassigned in March to The Salvation Army’s Torrance Corps in Southern California. An army spokeswoman said then that Paugh was being disciplined and that he would receive training, counseling and other assistance to determine when he was ready to resume a leadership role.

Woods said Paugh remains under supervision and is not in a leadership role. Paugh could not be reached for comment Monday at the Torrance corps because he was attending a retreat.

The lawsuit claims Paugh’s superiors did not demote or fire him. Instead, the lawsuit claims, Paugh was publicly thanked for a job well done in Modesto and given a “preferred lateral transfer” to Torrance. Wood disputed that assessment.

Paugh has served in the army for more than a dozen years, and Wood said this is the only complaint lodged against him.

The lawsuit states Rea is suffering from grief, humiliation and embarrassment. She also suffered from migraines, stomachaches that caused her to miss work, and trouble eating and sleeping when Paugh was assigned to Modesto. She is seeking $1 million in damages as well as compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

The Modesto Citadel Corps has an annual budget of more than $4 million. Its services include assistance with utility bills and food, a homeless and transitional living shelter, a noon meal program, and holiday food and toys for needy families.

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