‘Over My Dead Body’: Woman Seeking To Be First Female Senior Pastor Of Flagship Church Sues Over Alleged Gender Bias

(Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for the Estate of André Leon Talley)

Hailey Gomez General Assignment Reporter
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Reverend Eboni Marshall Turman sued the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City for alleged gender discrimination after she was not selected to attain a senior pastor position, according to the lawsuit.

Turman, 42, filed a lawsuit against the church Dec. 29, 2023 seeking to “recover damages and equitable relief” as a result of the church allegedly discriminating against her gender while filling the open senior pastor position, according to the lawsuit. (RELATED: FIFA President Begs New Zealand Fans To Buy Women’s World Cup Tickets As Sales Slump)

The Abyssinian church lost its longtime senior pastor, Calvin O. Butts, after he passed away in October 2022 due to cancer, according to the Associated Press (AP). Since his death, the church had applicants apply for the position, which included Turman, a professor at Yale Divinity School at the time, the outlet reported.

Turman previously worked with the church for roughly 10 years as the assistant minister, becoming one of the youngest women to be named to the position, according to her website. After submitting her application to the church, however, the former assistant minister did not make it to the finalist round, AP News reported.

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Turman’s lawsuit specifically called out committee chair Valerie S. Grant, claiming she had “behaved inappropriately” by asking “questions and pressing topics” that were similarly asked to the male applicants, the lawsuit claims. Turman additionally claimed Grant and another committee member stated Abyssinian would only hire a woman as the senior “over my dead body.”

“Gender discrimination motivated the decision not to hire [Marshall Turman], a fact discussed openly during meetings of the Committee, including by Grant and another Committee member, who said that Abyssinian would only hire a woman as its Senior Pastor ‘over my dead body,'” the complaint stated.

The former assistant minister is now seeking damages from the church and Grant for “lost wages, lost benefits, other economic damages, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and mental distress,”as well as adding an injunction prohibiting the hiring based on gender discrimination, the lawsuit stated.

Since the lawsuit has come forward, however, both the Abyssinian church and Grant have pushed back on Turman’s allegations. (RELATED: Marine Corps To Deactivate Female-Only Unit Amid Pressure From Congress To Speed Up Gender Integration)

An Abyssinian spokesperson, LaToya Evans, said that while Turman was “considered” for the position due to her “impressive background,” she fell “short” of “some key requirements” which led to the decision to not push her forward, according to AP News. Evans also noted the church is prepared to defend itself from the former minister assistant’s claims, the outlet reported.

“While she and others were considered for the role because of their impressive backgrounds, she ultimately fell short of some key requirements for the role, where other finalist candidates prevailed and moved forward in the process,” Evans stated.

Grant had stated Turman was one of 11 people who had advanced from a 47-person applicant field and had undergone a rigorous process, according to AP News. The committee member stated that while Turman was liked, she did not receive enough votes to move forward, confirming the process was “designed to be fair to everyone” as she called out Truman’s allegations of discrimination, the outlet reported.

“I have an issue with people characterizing this process as discriminatory and designed to deny opportunities to women,” Grant stated, according to AP News. “It’s simply not the case.”

Grant additionally clarified Truman was asked certain questions that other male candidates did not get “because she was the only woman” applicant, AP News reported. Grant stated that the applicants had all been asked a series of questions, with some being tailored to the applicant.

The former assistant minister claimed in the lawsuit, however, Butts had allegedly called her “the best minister I have ever had,” as well as “the smartest minister I have ever had,” the lawsuit claims. Truman additionally noted Butts allegedly admitted to her that the church would never hire her as the senior pastor because they would “never hire a woman for the position.”

An initial pretrial conference is reportedly scheduled for March 13.