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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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.