A Lowndes County woman has filed suit against Vibrant Church of Columbus, members of its leadership, an umbrella corporation the church operates under and 25 other yet-to-be-identified defendants on five counts, including discrimination/sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. It seeks actual, compensatory, pain/suffering and punitive damages as determined through a jury trial.
The suit was filed Thursday in federal district court in Aberdeen by Columbus attorney Corky Smith on behalf of Laura Ashley Eagan.
The suit covers events it alleges began in February 2020 through the end of the year. It alleges then senior pastor Jason Delgado made unwanted sexual advances by “various electronic means,” which came after Jason Delgado’s father, assistant pastor Ronald Delgado, told his son details of counseling sessions the father had with Eagan regarding her marriage difficulties.
The suit further claims Eagan, who was an intern at the church, was given a poor evaluation by her supervisor, identified as Laurel Jones. The suit said Jones did not provide documentation to support the poor evaluation but told Eagan she was “too sexy” to be an intern.
The suit says after that job evaluation, Eagan was referred to Jason Delgado for mentoring. The suit claims Jason Delgado used his knowledge of Eagan’s counseling sessions with his father — which Eagan understood to be confidential — and status as someone who had intervened on her behalf, to put Eagan in a vulnerable position.
The suit says shortly after he began mentoring Eagan, Jason Delgado began sending her messages, which she claimed to be benign at first, but over time became sexual overtures.
“Mr. Jason Delgado used his position of confidence, and his knowledge of Mrs. Eagan’s situation to fulfill his sexual perversions.” the suit states. “At best, this is a deliberate manipulation of those in need to fulfill unnatural, sexual fantasies. At worst, this is a calculated sexual predator, with his free pick of vulnerable victims.”
The suit said that Eagan “was left with nowhere to turn” when Jason Delgado’s communications became sexual in nature.
“She could not go to Mr. Ron Delgado, because he already betrayed her confidence. She could not go to the human resources department, because Mrs. Delgado (human resources director Miriam Delgado) was Jason Delgado’s mother,” the suit stated.
The suit said other church officials, including Pastor Mike Stephens and Stacy Peterson (listed on the church website as Kids Elementary Director) along with 25 others who would be identified during the course of the trial, had knowledge of the situation but either did nothing to intervene or participated in what the suit claims was a “set-up.”
The suit also said an umbrella organization of the church, identified in the suit as XYZ Corporation also to be named in the course of the trial, did not intervene, including defendant Dino Rizzo, who the lawsuit claims investigated Eagan’s claims.
Rizzo is listed as executive director and founder of Association of Related Churches (ARC) on that organization’s website.
The suit said church officials were aware of previous harassing behavior from Jason Delgado as far back as 2016, but took no action to correct the problem or prevent future incidents.
Delgado resigned his position at the church in April, three days after The Dispatch reported that two former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity, accused Jason Delgado of sexual harassment.
Mike Stephens is not listed as holding a position in the church, according to its website.
Ron Delgado is identified as associate pastor on the website while Miriam Delgado is listed as human resources director and Laurel Jones is listed as outreach director.
Editor’s note: The Dispatch’s policy is to not identify the victims of sexual crimes. The plaintiff in this lawsuit is identified because this is a civil case.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]