The ex-director of a church’s Southern California kindergarten claims she was fired for confronting a pastor who gawked in public at women’s buttocks, made sexually inappropriate comments and won coverup protection from his bosses.
Those are the federal lawsuit allegations made by Sandra Bonaparte, who says she rose through the ranks at Palisades United Methodist Church in Orange County as an assistant, a teacher and then, for 15 years, as preschool director with an exemplary record.
“In total, the plaintiff has worked for the defendants for the last 19 years without any issues until she started reporting concerns of sexual harassment by Pastor Darren Cowdrey in 2017,” the 20-page complaint states.
Cowdrey did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Bonaparte, she began investigating his conduct after a mother of a student told her he’d made “sexually suggestive” and “offensive” comments to her.
“Plaintiff viewed the security camera footage, which revealed very disturbing behavior by the pastor,” the complaint alleges. “She witnessed Cowdrey standing on the playground several times a week watching women in an inappropriate manner by staring at their buttocks as they walked by him.”
In the lawsuit, Bonaparte claims additional mothers, a teacher and a teaching assistant came forward with concerns, but church management did little to remedy the situation, finding the pastor merely suffered from a “lack of tact and interpersonal skills.”
Meanwhile, in Sept. 2018 two days after requesting a community-wide meeting about the situation, Bonaparte found herself fired on what she says are false allegations of giving unauthorized bonuses to staff and then being “escorted off campus like a criminal.”
“Defendants’ retaliatory treatment and termination of the plaintiff for the aforementioned complaints and objections violated [federal and state law],” the lawsuit states.
Bonaparte hopes a future jury will award her lost wages as well as damages for emotional distress.
U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton will preside over the case inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana.
A trial date has not been set, but the parties have been ordered to undergo mediation.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.