Mars Hill Graduate School will pay $300,000 in a court-approved judgment to settle a harassment and discrimination lawsuit brought by one of its founders.

Heather Parkinson-Webb, the first female professor at the Seattle seminary, alleged that she was fired after filing for divorce and being granted a restraining order against Kirk Webb, another founder of the school, in 2005. In the lawsuit, Parkinson-Webb alleged that the school knew her former husband had an affair with a student, but failed to dismiss him. Webb, who later left the school, told CT he'd never had an affair.

"In my experience, there has been a pattern of harassment and retaliation that [the school] wouldn't want exposed," Parkinson-Webb said. "A lot of this is very painful, but I'm hoping it will do good for others who come after me."

As part of the judgment, Mars Hill must provide Parkinson-Webb with a letter of regret and a letter of reference. The school must also "engage outside professionals to conduct diversity/anti-discrimination training for all employees on at least an annual basis for not less than three years."

Mars Hill president Dan Allender said that Parkinson-Webb had not been harassed or fired, and that the school had agreed to a judgment simply to avoid further litigation costs. "I don't know how to respond to such conjectures and accusations," Allender said. "This is a tragedy for us that personal problems, in my view, have apparently been projected onto our institution and community."

However, a former adjunct professor whose husband also co-founded the school, Suzanne Hudson, said she faced a similar situation to Parkinson-Webb's in 2001. She said she was forced to resign after separating from her husband when he had an affair with a student. ...

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March 2008

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