School settles suit for $300,000

EVERETT — A divinity school that used to operate in south Snoho­mish County has agreed to pay a former employee $300,000 in connection with a sex discrimination lawsuit the woman filed in 2005.

A judgment against Mars Hill Graduate School was signed this week by a court commissioner in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The lawsuit was filed by Heather Webb, a faculty member and one of the founders of the school.

She also alleged that school officials harassed and retaliated against her, according to court documents.

The judgment orders the school to continue with diversity and anti-discrimination training for Mars Hill employees, said her Seattle attorney, Judith Lonnquist.

The plaintiff, who now goes by the last name Parkinson-Webb and lives in Connecticut, wanted to be able to make a statement about her experience, and wanted other women now employed at the school to know that they have rights, Lonnquist said.

In a statement, Parkinson-Webb said: “I brought this lawsuit in order to ensure that no other woman at Mars Hill would have to go through what I did.”

The school, which now operates out of the Belltown district of Seattle, offers masters degrees in counseling, psychology, divinity and Christian studies. It began operating in 1997 as a branch campus of Western Seminary, and became an independent school in 2002.

The school is not affiliated with the Mars Hill Church.

In a statement, chief financial officer Phillip Bishop said the school does not make employment decisions based on a person’s gender, race or disability

“Mars Hill strenuously maintains that Ms. Webb’s claims were utterly without merit,” Bishop said. “Mars Hill Graduate School has never admitted nor would it ever admit that Ms. Webb’s claims had any basis in fact. To the contrary, Mars Hill Graduate School maintains that Ms. Webb was treated fairly by the school throughout her tenure here.”

Bishop said the lawsuit was settled amicably “because of the uncertainty and distraction litigation can cause.”

He said he is glad the case is “behind us so we can devote our full energy to furthering” the school’s teaching mission.

Parkinson-Webb, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was the only woman faculty member when the school started.

Lonnquist alleged that the teacher’s contract was not renewed for the 2005-2006 school year after Parkinson-Webb filed for divorce from another founding faculty member, Kirk Webb.

She alleged in court documents that Kirk Webb engaged in a relationship with a student, whom he later married.

Parkinson-Webb’s lawsuit alleged that the school’s leadership knew about her former husband’s relationship and didn’t take steps to end it.

She also alleged that school officials “began a pattern of harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Ms. Parkinson-Webb after she filed the divorce papers” in 2005, Lonn­quist said.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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