Former senior pastors at a Santa Maria church are facing a sexual battery, assault and harassment lawsuit filed by a former parishioner, who also alleges church officials did not take action when complaints were raised.
The lawsuit -- filed last summer by a mother of two in her 30s identified as Jane Doe -- claims that former Church for Life pastors Robert Litzinger and Cindy Litzinger knowingly co-conspired in conduct from 2014-16 that included sexual harassment, battery, assault and gender violence.
Criminal charges have never been filed against either Robert or Cindy, according to court records.
Doe is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants, along with attorney and court fees, claiming she was harmed physically and mentally. The case returns to Santa Maria Superior Court on May 22 for a case management conference.
Attorneys representing the couple and Church for Life, located at 3130 Skyway Drive, have denied any wrongdoing by the organization, including Cindy and Robert. Robert's attorney further argued that the statute of limitations barred Doe from receiving any damages in the case. In addition, defense attorneys claimed Doe knowingly participated in some activities as requested by Robert.
Church officials, along with their attorneys, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Robert stepped down from church leadership in June 2016 after complaints were made to church personnel about opinions on viewing pornography he allegedly communicated during one of his premarriage counseling courses, according to the suit.
Shortly after Robert stepped down, Doe discovered more than a dozen women had similar experiences with the pastor.
In addition to serving as a pastor, Robert was a member of the Santa Maria Community Development Block Grants Committee before his appointment to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission in April 2016. He stepped down from his post just a few weeks after he was appointed.
In her lawsuit against the Church of Life and the Litzingers, Doe alleges that Robert used his position as lead pastor to "cultivate an atmosphere within Church for Life, through which he could satisfy his sexual fetishes.”
The lawsuit further accuses Church for Life of not taking action to investigate complaints against Robert, which included Doe's as well as claims made a year prior to the couple's departure in 2016. The lawsuit also alleges that Cindy knowingly assisted, facilitated and encouraged her husband’s sexual conduct.
According to the complaint, in premarriage classes Robert would teach through the church, he would try and "prepare the young women for their husbands and their wedding night,” instructing the women on how to masturbate, have an orgasm and figure out their bodies, being "prepared and willing to do whatever their husbands wanted.”
Robert also would also encourage women to be open with their sex lives like his wife, stating that doing so made them strong Christian women, the complaint alleges.
Part of his premarriage counseling included soliciting explicit photos from Doe, according to the complaint, and sharing his own sexual experiences with other women, explaining that “we need to be open with each other.”
Robert also would allegedly share photos of himself with Cindy, covered in bed, with a note that they "just had a great session." Robert, then, would ask Doe to send similar photos and, after multiple requests, she complied.
Robert allegedly continued to send photos to Doe, who found herself "frozen in shock, confusion, fear and disbelief," according to the suit. When she asked him to stop, Robert would apologize and claim it was a mistake but encouraged Doe to "be like his wife -- confident and a real woman of God," the suit continued.
During one occasion where Doe was invited to the couple’s home for a prayer group, Robert reportedly groped Doe’s breasts and genitals, which Doe complained about to Cindy. According to the complaint, Cindy called it an "innocent mistake."
Attorneys representing Cindy denied she aided and abetted her husband's alleged actions, stating there was no factual assertions that she intentionally participated in Robert's actions with the knowledge of what he intended. They also deny Cindy's conduct toward Doe was sexual in nature and that it was neither pervasive nor severe.
In response to the claim Cindy called Robert's groping of Doe "an innocent mistake," attorneys argued that the action doesn't rise to the level of aiding and abetting.
Doe eventually complained to other pastors at Church for Life, "but those complaints fell on deaf ears," according to the lawsuit, and she was advised to speak with Robert directly to resolve the issue.