SAN DIEGO (CN) - The 16,000-member San Diego Rock Church fired a longtime pastor to try to stop him from testifying in a child molestation lawsuit against the church, the man claims in court.
August Hunter sued San Diego Rock Church on Aug. 21, in Superior Court. They are the only parties to the complaint.
Hunter says he was ordained as an associate pastor for the defendant church in 2005 and worked in the prison ministry, human resources, and security departments until he was fired in 2013.
He claims that he received positive job performance reviews and accolades throughout his employment.
More than 16,000 people attend San Diego Rock Church, in person or via live streaming, and its annual income is more than $30, according to its recent annual report, Hunter says, citing the church website.
Hunter claims that in 2010 he and his wife, who also was a Rock Church employee, witnessed an act of child molestation at the church while waiting for an elevator.
"When the elevator door opened, plaintiff and (his wife) saw Gary Shafer, a Rock Academy teacher, holding up a young girl, with the girl's legs straddling his hip area. Shafer's left hand was on the girl's back or shoulder, and his right hand was on her buttocks. Shafer appeared startled when he saw plaintiff and Ms. Doyle."
Hunter says that he and his wife immediately reported the incident to Treena Meyers, then-director of human resources and now executive director of talent management.
Hunter claims that Meyers assured him that the matter would be handled adequately, but Rock Church failed to notify authorities and continued to employ Shafer as a teacher, according to the complaint.
He claims that after his report, Meyers told him about "multiple apparent molestation incidents involving Gary Shafer at the Rock Academy."
On Jan. 14, 2013, parents of children who had allegedly been molested by Shafer filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court, Doe v. San Diego Rock Church
, which "alleges that the Rock Church Academy knew about the abuse by Gary Shafer well before it was reported to the authorities and well before Gary Shafer was terminated," according to Hunter's lawsuit.
Three days after the molestation lawsuit was filed, the church began the process of firing him, Hunter claims. "Shortly after the parents of alleged molestation victims filed their January 14, 2013 lawsuit, the Rock Church made it their goal to terminate plaintiff because of what he had and his wife had reported to upper management about Mr. Shafer's behavior," the complaint states. "Plaintiff knew that Director Treena Meyers was aware of Mr. Shafer's offenses against children, by 2010 at the latest. Plaintiff and his wife's 2010 reporting of the elevator incident and Treena Meyers's account of the other incidents to plaintiff contradict the Rock Church's main defense in the parents' molestation lawsuit, i.e. that the Rock Church had no prior knowledge of Mr. Shafer's alleged abuse of Rock Academy students."
Hunter seeks lost pay and benefits and punitive damages for wrongful firing and breach of contract.
He adds, in the complaint: "Since being wrongfully terminated by the Rock Church, plaintiff has struggled to find employment and earn income. The attributes that made plaintiff a successful prison pastor on behalf of the Rock Church, such as being a three-time felon, have hindered plaintiff's ability to find employment in the job market."
He is represented by David Huch, of Ontario, Calif.