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Writers lose appeal against newspaper

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Two former editorial writers at Indiana's largest newspaper failed to prove they were the victims of religious discrimination, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

James Patterson and Lisa M. Coffey claimed their former employer, The Indianapolis Star, engaged in systematic discrimination against "traditional Christians" who believe homosexual conduct is a sin. They said the Star's top editors opposed public expression of religion in the workplace and discriminated against those who opposed homosexual conduct because of their religion. Patterson and Coffey also argued the paper "softened" its views on homosexuality once Dennis Ryerson became the editor.

Coffey worked for the paper from 1999 until she resigned in October 2003 following an offer to move back ­- full time - to the copy desk, the position she held when she was first hired. The move was prompted by Coffey's continuous misuse of the paper's overtime policy, according to court documents.

While working as an editorial writer, her editors refused to publish an editorial about HIV risks associated with sodomy because of explicit detail about anal intercourse. She was also warned about proselytizing at work.

Patterson joined the Star as an editorial writer in 1995. Court documents note his work was repeatedly plagued with factual errors and often required printed corrections. Even after being placed on a performance-improvement plan, Patterson's editorial errors didn't decrease. Patterson, who is African-American, was fired after 18 months on the plan in May 2005.

In James Patterson and Lisa M. Coffey v. Indiana Newspapers Inc., No. 08-2050, the Circuit judges noted that it accepted the Star's version of the facts, just as the District Court did, because Coffey and Patterson didn't comply with Local Rule 56.1(b).

The Circuit Court then affirmed summary judgment for the Star, finding the two failed to make prima facie cases of religious discrimination. Although both established they belonged to a protected class and suffered an adverse employment action, they failed to prove they performed their jobs according to the paper's legitimate performance expectations and that they were treated less favorably compared to other similarly situated employees outside the protected class, wrote Judge Diane S. Sykes.

Neither employee could prove they were meeting the Star's legitimate performance expectations - Coffey repeatedly violated the overtime policy and Patterson continually made factual errors within his writing.

Patterson's claims for age and racial discrimination, and retaliation, also failed for the same reasons his religious discrimination claim did, the judge wrote.

The two also brought state-law claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress, which the District Court properly dismissed because getting fired from a job doesn't qualify.

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  2. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  3. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

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  5. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

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