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A civil court has found a California church financially liable for over $100,000 after the church recommended an employee for a daycare job where he molested children, after he had been let go by the church three previous times for inappropriate behavior with youth.
Church on the Hill in San Jose, Calif., was ordered to pay three girls $185,762 or 17.5 percent of the total $1,061,500 award on Dec. 18, after jurors found the imprisoned former counselor, Keith Woodhouse, 27, and the daycare, Child Development Inc., financially liable for Woodhouse's abuse of three girls, reports The San Jose Mercury News.
Robert Allard, who represented the girls, alleged that Woodhouse, who was employed by the church in 2004, 2007 and 2009, had been fired three times by the church for acting inappropriately around children and that the church had never reported his behavior to police.
"The church was the only party who knew there was a pedophile in their midst and did nothing about it," Allard told the jury. "It's like sending a wolf to sheep."
Allard gave an example from 2007 where he said that Woodhouse had become sexually aroused after a girl had sat on his lap and that a lifeguard subsequently heard him masturbating in the bathroom afterwards. Church officials subsequently conducted an internal investigation and concluded that there was "no proof that the child had been inappropriately touched."
The church said that Woodhouse was fired because he had disobeyed employees' orders not to place children on his lap, a policy that he violated again when the church hired him two years later.
In 2010, however, the church's Children Ministries director informed a Child Development Inc. supervisor that Woodhouse had a "heart for children."
Allard argued that, regardless of how well the employee had known of the former church employee's behavior, "such a recommendation was unwarranted."
However, the jury said that they were convinced that the Children Ministries' director believed that Woodhouse had reformed his ways when she recommended him for the position.
"There are people who are willing to give people second chances and want them to succeed," a representative for the jury said. "She struck us as such a person."
Both he and the church's attorneys, however, foisted most of the blame on Child Development Inc., who they accused of failing to check Woodhouse's education, references and previous employment references, and said it had hired him because it was desperate for employees.
The jury found Woodhouse and Child Development Inc. 25 and 57.5 percent liable, respectively. However, because Child Development Inc. had already reached a payout to the girls prior to the trial it does not have to pay its percentage of the jury award.
Woodhouse was convicted of molesting nine girls in October and is currently in prison serving a sentence of 30 years to life.
Church on the Hill staff told The Christian Post that they are not going to comment on the case.