The EEOC office is located in the Sam Nunn Federal Center in downtown Atlanta. 
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

UMC’s Global Ministries settles discrimination complaint

The United Methodist Church’s Global Ministries will pay $50,000 to settle a retaliation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The action was filed in 2019 on behalf of Ivy Couch, a communications specialist and program area liaison, who was employed by Global Ministries to write articles for the organization’s website to build engagement and raise awareness about the organization, according to the complaint. 

Global Ministries is the arm of the United Methodist Church responsible for the training and oversight of more than 350 missionaries in more than 65 nations.

Couch, who is African American, complained several times to human resources about race discrimination and said she was subjected to retaliation for complaining.

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Couch could not be reached for comment, but her husband Mark Couch, referred all calls to the EEOC regional attorney, Antonette Sewell. 

Sewell could not be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, there were two communications specialists in the mission engagement unit. Couch and another woman, who is white. Both were supervised by a white female manager.

Couch alleged that the manager subjected her to discriminatory treatment. 

Couch complained to human resources and, according to the complaint, the manager was fired. Shortly thereafter, though, she was rehired by the executive director and assigned to a different department.

When the executive director became Couch’s supervisor, he began to treat her less favorably than her white co-worker. The executive director made “disparaging comments to Couch, removing many of her job duties, decreasing her professional opportunities by limiting her assignments and even removing her previously published articles” from the website, according to the lawsuit.

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In March 2018, the suit alleges the executive director hired another white female to supervise the two women, however the executive director maintained control over the department.

Over the next few months, Couch complained to human resources about her treatment.

She complained of retaliation from the executive director that included making “inappropriate comments concerning her (Couch’s) infant child.”

The statement said Global Ministries eventually fired her on or about June. 2018. The reason given, according to the lawsuit, was a departmental reorganization.

UMC Global Ministries, which is based in Atlanta, said in a statement that the agreement  “reflects a compromise so that we could avoid the continuing costs of litigation, and does not reflect any admission or finding of wrongdoing. We strongly believe we acted lawfully and appropriately in the matter, however, this resolution ensures that our administration will not be caught up in continuing litigation for years.”

The EEOC said the nonprofit’s actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from firing, demoting, harassing or otherwise retaliating against employees because of race or because they complained to their employer about discrimination on the job. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. 

In the consent decree settling the suit, in addition to the monetary relief, Global Ministries agreed to provide employment discrimination training to its employees and post its anti-retaliation policy as well as an anti-discrimination notice.

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