7th District Court of Appeals rules against Coffey, Patterson

Dateline: Tue 08 Dec 2009

Thanks to the blog reader who forwarded the news from Indiana Lawyer Daily that former Star editorial writers Lisa Coffey and James Patterson failed to prove they were victims of religious discrimination when they were dismissed byt he newspaper. The rulilng today from the 7th District Court of Appeals upheld an earlier dismissal of Patterson's and Coffey's claims.

Really, this comes as no surprise -- except for the fact that an appeal had been filed. I think most of us believed this was over and done with, dead in the water.

The post that is a must-read on the subject is by Doug Masson on "Masson's Blog, A Citizen's Guide to Indiana." Masson is an attorney and he can parse this as both a lawyer and writer. Based on his take, Coffey and Patterson did not have their act together legally:

"First, the district court rejected a lot of Coffey and Patterson’s identification of material facts in dispute because it was rife with argument, in violation of the local rules. Furthermore, their affidavits were rejected where the affidavits contradicted their deposition testimony. You are supposed to identify facts in dispute as objectively as possible, saving your argument for a later part of the brief. Additionally, courts will not allow self-serving affidavit testimony to trump contradictory deposition testimony without a good explanation for the contradiction. This resulted in the courts working on the law based mostly on the Indy Star’s characterization of the facts."

Masson also notes this from 3-0 ruling:

"The plaintiffs claim that after Ryerson became editor, the Star published 'hordes of news articles' designed to portray homosexuality in a positive light, 'softened' its editorial opposition to same sex marriage, promoted employees who were homosexuals or 'homosexual sympathizers,' sought to purge the news and editorial operations of the paper of 'traditional Christians,' and otherwise exhibited animus toward Christians who opposed homosexual conduct."

In case you have forgotten, the whole thing got rolling after Coffey wrote a column on the dangers of anal intercourse -- she planned a series on the subject.  The column apparently had sailed thru the Star's editorial offices (that's how things were done then) and was then discovered in the computer system by a reporter casually reading various edited articles. That reporter was so aghast at Coffey's perspective and the amount of graphic detail in her column that Star executive editor Dennis Ryerson was alerted. Ryerson killed the column. Eventually, Coffey and Patterson -- who had his own issues with Gannett management -- decided to sue on the basis that the Star had an anti-Christian bias.

However, I believe it's true that Ryerson did push and promote news stories dealing favorably with gay issues, including running a photo on Father's Day of two men marrying (just one example that in particular incensed some readers).

Ryerson told some staff members that his twin brother is a gay man, and Ryerson would not tolerate discrimination against gays. Anyone who thinks newspapers don't have agendas is living in another century, but then, that really wasn't the issue of the lawsuit. And, in fairness and truth, it is a newspaper's mission to have agendas.

If you want to read more, go to Masson:



Whitebeard [unverified] said:

In general, I think American Christians in recent decades have done way too much condemning of people who they disagree with and have not displayed nearly enough love and tolerance.

And yes, I am a Christian.

However, I was a bit put off by reading about Ryerson's policy against "religious prostelytizing."

Does that mean that if a reporter says casually to a copy editor on a coffee break, "I believe in God and He is an important part of my life" that he or she is guilty of breaking Ryerson's policy?

Or, if a Catholic section editor explains to a columnist why he/she has a dark mark (ash) on his/her forehead just prior to Easter ( a mark applied by a priest as a part of the pre-Easter observances) does that make the section editor guilty of breaking this policy?

It sounds like a pretty stupid policy to me. People are quite capable of saying, "Would you shut up with that religious stuff, please?"

2009-12-09 00:17:57

Espn College Basketball [unverified] said:

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2009-12-09 03:16:07

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

LOL. Syracuse. Basketball. Jim Boeheim not calling time-out in 1987.

Seriously, Mr. Mary Milz does not want to open this can of worms again. Ever.

2009-12-09 04:06:57

davida [unverified] said:

"However, I believe it's true that Ryerson did push and promote news stories dealing favorably with gay issues, including running a photo on Father's Day of two men marrying (just one example that in particular incensed some readers)."
And what's wrong with that? Old man Pulliam had his own agendas (Anti-Jew, Pro-Christian, etc.)
Ryerson was just bringing The Star into the 21st Century; it's beginning to reflect what society really looks like: we are seeing more African-Americans, Gays, Hispanics in the paper. It's a good thing.

2009-12-09 09:32:38

Boomer [unverified] said:

Daily newspapers have no business setting social policy. Editors should accept all views, even if it's a view they personally don't believe in. Journalism is about being objective. Not agenda-setting. Your idea of bringing something "into the 21st Century" is different than mine and thousand of others. So you have to maintain balance.

2009-12-09 12:01:57

StarStruck [unverified] said:

Frankly, I'd like to know how Lisa Coffey knows so much about anal intercourse, why she had enough info for a "series" and why she thinks only homosexuals engage in this behavior.

2009-12-09 16:01:43

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Boomer sez "editors should accept all views".

Obviously didn't work at The Star during the Pulliam days, when we couldn't run photos of snakes....

Of course, that prohibition was just the, ahem, tip of the iceberg!

2009-12-09 16:18:01

hendy [Member] said:

Ryerson had a tough choice and perhaps he made a correct on. I say 'perhaps' because contentions and beliefs, even when not based on sound facts, deserve dignity at minimum.

This one got thrown out on grounds that testimony changed. What if it hadn't? What if the issue was to decide was discrimination? Were I to chose sides, it would be (gasp) with Ryerson. Yet it wasn't long ago that other unpopular view points forwarded by earnest individuals were also blocked-- especially at The Star & News.

How to create and foster tolerance in the face of orthodoxy has become the great question of our time.

2009-12-10 11:39:01

John M [unverified] said:

"This one got thrown out on grounds that testimony changed. What if it hadn't?"

That's really not the case. While the Court knocked Plaintiffs' counsel for failing to follow the rules about properly designating evidence, nothing in the written opinions of the Court of Appeals or the District Court suggests that there was any evidence of religious discrimination that would have saved the day if it weren't for the courts' procedural rulings. The affidavit testimony that was disregarded related to Patterson's workload and to both Plaintiffs' supposed emotional distress. The latter obviously relates to their "negligent infliction of emotional distress" claims, not the discrimination claims. The testimony about Patterson's workload almost certainly wouldn't have saved the day given his uniformly poor work evaluations under two different editors. In other words, allowing the affidavits in almost certainly would not have had an effect on the courts' rulings on the discrimination claims. As to the structure of Plaintiffs' brief, the District Court made clear that it would take note of factual disputes when they were obvious based on the parties' arguments. In other words, they would consider those factual disputes, but wouldn't go hunting for them in Plaintiffs' poorly written brief. While the Court ruled adversely on that procedural issue, it did decide the case on the merits, considering the deposition testimony of both Coffey and Patterson.

2009-12-10 12:22:37

ellen [unverified] said:

my mama always told me never to discuss sex, religion or politics if i wanted to get along with coworkers. i didn't always take her advice, but neither did i try to convert the big boss. there's a time to speak out and a time to shut up if you want to keep your job.

if they had alleged a "hostile work environment" because of their religious views, they might have had a better case. but, on the other hand, running lisa's proposed series could have been construed as creating a "hostile work environment" for gay members of the staff if it were at all pejorative rather than simply factual and applicable to both sexes. (it still would have had no place in a "family" newspaper, even as medical news.)

2009-12-14 11:32:32

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