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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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  1. I need an experienced attorney to handle a breach of contract matter. Kindly respond for more details. Graham Young

  2. I thought the slurs were the least grave aspects of her misconduct, since they had nothing to do with her being on the bench. Why then do I suspect they were the focus? I find this a troubling trend. At least she was allowed to keep her law license.

  3. Section 6 of Article I of the Indiana Constitution is pretty clear and unequivocal: "Section 6. No money shall be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious or theological institution."

  4. Video pen? Nice work, "JW"! Let this be a lesson and a caution to all disgruntled ex-spouses (or soon-to-be ex-spouses) . . . you may think that altercation is going to get you some satisfaction . . . it will not.

  5. First comment on this thread is a fitting final comment on this thread, as that the MCBA never answered Duncan's fine question, and now even Eric Holder agrees that the MCBA was in material error as to the facts: "I don't get it" from Duncan December 1, 2014 5:10 PM "The Grand Jury met for 25 days and heard 70 hours of testimony according to this article and they made a decision that no crime occurred. On what basis does the MCBA conclude that their decision was "unjust"? What special knowledge or evidence does the MCBA have that the Grand Jury hearing this matter was unaware of? The system that we as lawyers are sworn to uphold made a decision that there was insufficient proof that officer committed a crime. How can any of us say we know better what was right than the jury that actually heard all of the the evidence in this case."

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