Coffey, Patterson lawsuit has no merit, judge rules

Dateline: Thu 27 Mar 2008

After many months of consideration, Southern District Judge Larry McKinney has ruled against plaintiffs Lisa Coffey and James Patterson in their efforts to prove the Star and Gannett discharged them as employees for bias. Patterson, an African-American, charged that he was a victim of racial discrimination. Both also argued they were persecuted as Christians.

The ruling takes into consideration Patterson's history of errors in his editorial work and his decision to write about national vs. local issues, against the wishes of his employers. Coffey, who believes she ran up against pro-homosexual bias at the paper, was in fact reassigned from the editorial pages to the copy desk, which caused her to resign. The sticking point was a column she had written about anal intercourse, which exeuctive editor Dennis Ryerson decided was too graphic to be published.

The judgment will come as no surprise to those familiar with the players. From the beginning, Coffey and Patterson were thought to be on shaky legal ground by many Star employees and former employees. Still, sentiment against Gannett is so great that Patterson and Coffey did have some backers. They had worked initially with attorney John Price, who resigned from the case, and most recently with attorney Larry Newman.

The ruling points out that editorial page editor Tim Swarens shares the religious beliefs of both Coffey and Patterson and that the paper does contain religious content, including a Biblical verse, a weekly "Faith and Values" section and editorial commentary on same-sex marriage, prayers in the Statehouse, etc. The ruling also points out that the Star, editorially, has opposed same-sex marriage. That view is also held by publisher Barbara Henry, according to the documents. Henry is described as "a professed Christian."

Thanks to Ed Feigenbaum of Indiana Legislative Insight for passing on the ruling. Please check the following blogs for more commentary and/or a copy of the ruling: Indiana Law Blog, Advance Indiana and Bury the Lede.

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