Associated Press correspondent Linda Stewart Ball reports:
A Texas woman who was promised a Christian working environment claims she was devastated after learning that her boss, a prominent televangelist, was having an affair and his company was trying to cover it up, according to a lawsuit she filed against her former employer.
Jeanette Hawkins levied the accusations against Daystar Television Network and its founder, the Rev. Marcus Lamb, in a lawsuit Wednesday — a day after Lamb and his wife told their television audience that three unnamed people who knew about the affair were trying to blackmail them for $7.5 million.
On Friday, Daystar countersued Hawkins, saying she and her attorney made "outrageous allegations" and amended their original lawsuit that they'd given to media outlets, according to a statement released by the company.
Lamb and his wife, Joni, said on the air Tuesday that they'd mended their marriage after his infidelity years ago, but decided to go public because they refused to pay extortionists.
Hawkins' attorney, James Fisher, declined to comment on the countersuit because he had not yet seen it. But he denied the claims of extortion, saying he met with Daystar attorneys last month about reaching a settlement for Hawkins and two other women in an effort to avoid filing any lawsuits.
"People have claims, which are legal rights. Not only is it common but it's Biblical to try to resolve disputes before going to court," Fisher told The Associated Press. "(Hawkins) didn't commit extortion. She hired a lawyer to present her claims and to explore the possibility of settling them, and that's not extortion."Hawkins' lawsuit also said she was defamed by the Lambs' remarks on television. Even though the couple didn't refer to anyone by name, many people at Daystar knew about a letter that named her and the other two women that Fisher sent to company attorneys.
Daystar, which is based in the Dallas suburb of Bedford, airs several high-profile evangelists including Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and Benny Hinn.
Phone calls to Daystar's attorney and the Lambs on Friday were referred to the Lambs' spokesman, Larry Ross, who said the network's attorneys received "a lawsuit containing many allegations that are not correct and will be vigorously defended and disputed."
Ross wouldn't discuss details of the suit, but he said the demand for money came during a November meeting between the attorneys.
Ross said Daystar contacted Bedford police and the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Texas. Bedford police confirmed they were looking into a case of possible extortion, and a U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman said she couldn't say whether the office was investigating.
Fisher, who said he never intended to take the case to the media, said the Lambs were "bullies and they're trying to intimidate us. They're trying to preserve their ability to collect donations out there."
Hawkins went to work for Daystar as its marketing director in 2005, after she was assured by Lamb and her would-be Daystar supervisor that the company was dedicated "to the highest standards of Christian behavior" and moral integrity was required of all employees, according to her lawsuit.
But in 2007, a Daystar employee who reported to Hawkins said he found e-mails that proved Lamb had been having "an illicit sexual relationship" with Hawkins' boss for about seven years, according to the lawsuit. The e-mails also showed that Lamb used Daystar's financial resources to "facilitate the trysts," the suit alleged.
In its statement, Daystar said Hawkins' lawsuit was revised Friday to remove "some of the more incendiary allegations," including the duration of the affair.
Hawkins' lawsuit said she and an information services employee who also had copies of the e-mails consulted two marriage counselors who often appeared on the Lambs' daily talk show. They also told Joni Lambs' father, a Daystar manager, and he told his daughter.
According to the lawsuit, the broadcast company paid the woman "substantial sums of hush-money" and she left the state, then the company mislead people about her departure, which Hawkins alleged was a breach of trust.
Hawkins said Daystar's misrepresentations caused her so much "severe emotional trauma" that she became depressed, suicidal and was involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
Her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Fisher would only acknowledge that it is a "multimillion-dollar case."