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Where The Spirit Of The Lord Is, There Is A Lawsuit

Well, well, well. Look who got served: TDW's favorite newspaper.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday evening, two former Star employees, Lisa Coffey and James Patterson, accuse the paper of a handful of violations of various statutes, including religious, racial and age discrimination; negligent infliction of emotional distress and unlawful retaliation.

The lawsuit is 32 long-winded pages, so TDW will give you a brief synopsis and some comment-ridden excerpts. (Note to plaintiffs' attorney John Price: This is a joke. Pure, unadulterated satire.)

Lisa Coffey: 46-year-old, white, God-fearin' copy editor and occasional editorial writer. Allegedly left under duress after Dennis Ryerson and Barb Henry spiked her sodomy series and banished her full-time to the copy desk. Rumored to once have played in a rock band, which presumably was blessed by the Lord.

James Patterson: 51-year-old, black editorial writer. Also has beaucoup love for the Jesus. Claims he was fired for being a 51-year-old, black editorial writer who has beaucoup love for the Jesus. No known rock band experience.

They're asking for reinstatement at the Star, past income, special damages, attorneys' fees and a gallon of Communion wine each.

For the time being, let's look at some funny excerpts from the lawsuit

"Not only was [Patterson] expected to produce 100% error-free copy for each and every column and article..."

TDW: As opposed to before, when it was totally chill to turn in 93 percent accurate copy for each and every column and article.

"Shortly after Mr. Ryerson’s hiring, he made a public statement to the members of the Editorial Department that sodomy laws should be repealed.  As a result of Mr. Ryerson’s stated opinion, Plaintiff Coffey began researching the topic of sodomy and specifically the public health and economic consequences of anal intercourse, if any."

TDW: So, what you're saying is that shortly after Dennis Ryerson was hired as the new executive editor of the paper, he told the editorial staff (note the root word in "editorial") that he didn't want Indiana to be a backward hick state that endorsed laws that have since been struck down by SCOTUS. Shortly thereafter, Lisa Coffey began researching a series that would directly buck the wishes of her boss, the editor. Nice going.

"For these reasons, Plaintiff Coffey knew her contributions were necessary and would remain critical for the efficient operations of the Editorial Department."

TDW: Lisa, you're not the first Star employee to think you were irreplaceable, but all the news that's fit to print can be edited by anyone. And all the columns that are fit to be written can be written by anyone. Your poo stinks, too.

"When he read it, Mr. Ryerson became enraged and refused to print it, stating that The Star would never run anything that was so anti-gay.  The test column was not anti-gay, despite Mr. Ryerson’s interpretation of it; it was an accurate depiction of the risks associated with anal intercourse."

TDW: Again, Dennis Ryerson is the executive editor of the paper. Executive. Editor. The head guy. For so very many years, the Star was run by people who were content to endorse an anti-gay, pro-Christian agenda. This guy apparently -- and thankfully -- wants to change that. But TDW does enjoy reading a pleading with the words "anal intercourse" in it, as opposed to the seemingly endless stream of dull law school cases about property rights and contracts.

"Plaintiff Patterson came under increasingly close and stressful scrutiny as one of the few known Christians remaining in the Editorial Department."

TDW: Was he really under close and stressful scrutiny as one of the few known Christians in the editorial department? Or did he just happen to be a Christian under scrutiny? Also, the wording of this implies that there's a Bible study group secretly meeting in the third-floor bathroom each week: "Shhhhh. Pray quietly. Dennis is coming. Aw, man, he went for the stall."

"Trophies for the other award-winning reporters were distributed to them.  Plaintiff Patterson did not receive his trophy."

TDW: And Milton never got his cake. He didn't sue, though. He burned the building down.

"The Star delayed conducting Plaintiff Patterson’s 2003 performance evaluation for several months until immediately after Plaintiff Patterson had committed one error in an article requiring a printed correction."

TDW: James Patterson got a review? Some reporters have gone for years between evaluations. It's not malice on the Star's part; it's more that you wind up with a different editor every six months, and no one's particularly concerned about whether you ever get a raise. Unfortunately, an action for unintentional infliction of low self-worth has not yet been allowed, at least to TDW's knowledge, in any court.

"Instead of the proffered and false reason, Plaintiff Coffey was actually removed from the Editorial Department and the Pulliam Fellowship because of her Christian religious beliefs, because she mentioned those beliefs briefly in an e-mail to Mr. Ryerson, and because Mr. Ryerson and the other newsroom managers are hostile towards known Christians on staff at The Star because they connect Biblical Christianity with anti-homosexuality, and the promotion of viewpoints favorable to homosexuality and the gay community is a priority of these top newsroom managers."

TDW: So, really, what you're saying, Lisa, is that you allegedly got constructively discharged for being intolerant of people who dislike intolerance. Interesting argument. Essentially, you hate the lovers for hatin' the hate-lovers.

TDW could go on and on, paragraph at a time, dissecting the philosophical, professional and legal problems with these plaintiffs' assertions, but the bottom line is this: We're back in the land of woe-is-me oppressed Christians. TDW admits she isn't terribly familiar with Title VII or state and local civil rights laws, but this seems more like religious carping than something that honestly belongs in federal court. (Isn't it interesting that Lisa and James have filed under the municipal civil rights ordinance, which apparently covers them but still doesn't cover the gay people they so intensely dislike?)

Apparently, these two seem to think that they have the indelible right to share their viewpoints with everyone, which, to a certain constitutional extent, they do. But they don't have the right to do it in print for the largest paper in Indiana if the largest paper in Indiana decides it no longer wants to promote a conservative agenda. (Mind you, the Star has no shortage these days of right-wingers writing and drawing for its editorial page.)

In this entire 32-page pleading, there isn't much, if any, solid evidence of actual discrimination. The Star changes reporters and their beats like it changes plates on the press, but that's more attributable to the corporate playbook than to any actionable discrimination. And when you replace editors every 18 months, it's understood that there will be some shuffling of old people and hiring of new ones. Same goes in other media. That's the biz.

It looks to TDW like these two disgruntled former employees have wasted some cash on a verbose lawyer with too much billable time on his hands. Summary judgment, anyone? Let there be light.

To read all the sordid details: Download Indy_Star_Discrimination_Lawsuit.doc

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taking down words  has the scoop on a lawsuit filed by 2 ex-Indy Star employees alleging that they we discriminated against by the executive editor of the Star because of their strong Christian beliefs:  In a lawsuit filed in federal court Mo... [Read More]

» religious discrimination alleged at the Indy star from kemplog
taking down words  has the scoop on a lawsuit filed by 2 ex-Indy Star employees alleging that they were discriminated against by the executive editor of the Star because of their strong Christian beliefs:  In a lawsuit filed in federal court ... [Read More]

Comments

My sweet Jesus, I would love to do the depositions for the Star on this case. I would spend hour after hour on the anal sex alone. Then I'd conduct a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount and compare the Plaintiff's life to the commands of Jesus in an effort to establish that Plaintiff wasn't *really* a Christian and, hence, could not have been discriminated against on that basis. Then I'd go page after page through the Bible asking if this was the one with an injunction against homosexuality.

Annoying anal-sex hating Christians and submitting a huge bill to the Indy Star for the pleasure. Just a little slice of heaven.

I don't doubt any of this. Dennis Ryerson is a textbook limousine liberal who would love for everyone to view him as open-minded, but in fact has no courage to call out any of the Star's darlings, i.e. our exalted governor. In spite of the Star's daily reminder last election of why it's so important to vote, Ryerson isn't even registered to vote in our fair state.

I'm not sure what Ryerson's failure to register to vote has to do with him allegedly promoting a homosexual agenda in the newsroom.

At the Star, you can be a golden child one minute and a nobody the next. That's how Gannett runs its papers, and that's the life of a reporter. It doesn't have anything to do with race, religion or age. Editors are just, as a friend of mine recently said, like cats waiting for the next piece of string to come along.

As for the Star's coverage of Gov. Daniels, I have to disagree with you. They've taken him on several times, and he's earned quite a few negative editorials. It's easy, when you're really inclined to believe one side over the other, to think that the media are biased. Sometimes they are, but most times, they're just doing their best to be objective in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make them anything and everything else.

I pick on the media all the time, and there's a lot of reason to do so, but you'll never win an argument with me that starts out with, "Well, they're just in the pocket of the guy in office." If we spend all day whining about that perception, there won't be enough time left for us to get in there and fight our own fight.

Edmund Burke said that there were three Estates in Parliament (Kings, Lords and Commoners), but in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important than them all.

Long live the Fourth Estate!

Yar, TDW. I am no match for your wordsmithing. But if you are actually going to defend Dennis Ryerson on this site, of which I've been a big fan since its inception, I have no time for you. I'll admit he's done his job of taking the obligatory ocassional half-assed swipe at Mitch. I'll admit he's done his cover-my-ass effort at over-the-top liberalism to make sure he's covered on the editorial page. But, as you said, he's the Editor in CHIEF. He's the guy who decided that Norm Heikens could do a story EVERY WEEK on how shitty Indiana was allegedly doing on the jobs front. He's the guy who decided that the hungry reporter should follow mitch, while the lazy won't-work-overtime reporter would cover Kernan. He's the guy who decided that the only Star reporter worth his salt would cease to cover the State House now that Mitch is in. And he's the guy who wrote NOTHING when Bosma walked out last year over gay marriage, but headlined the editorial page this year with "DISGACE" after Dems walked out over education and property taxes. This is the person sticking up for gays in the newsroom?

I think it's absolutely relevant to expose this man's utter hypocrisy in so many instances. He won't run "anti-gay" op-eds, but gives Bosma a pass over the gay marriage walkout while subsequently slamming Dems on walking out over real issues. And, might I add, Republicans walked out at the end of session when there was little time to resurrect real legislation. At least our party did it at a point in time that left ample opportunity to revive meaningful initiatives.

So yes, in this context, it is relevant to talk about His Exalted Editor not having ever voted in our state, after he preached to all of Central Indiana about the importance of their vote. If he feels so strongly about social issues, maybe he should walk his own walk.

And I'm still waiting for his retraction of the completely incorrect jobs stories that he chose to run last year. Any politically astute Hoosier knows that jobs was the top issue in the election. Dennis Ryerson himself was the primary, albeit not sole, decision maker in the tone that the Star chose to take last year, which was "Indian Sucks" at every turn.

Again, I've been thrilled with this site's mission and discussion. But if you are going to defend this jackass, you've lost a fan.

just wondering if fellow christians russ pulliam and tim swearens have resigned in solidarity.

I'd hate to lose a reader, so let me explain. I wasn't defending and never have defended Dennis Ryerson. He wasn't my boss at the Star, but he seems to be of the ilk of editor Gannett likes to send Indy's way. To wit, temporary and uninterested in anything more than the top layer of the city. (And the kind of string-puller who landed his wife the city beat job at WTHR, displacing one of their best reporters.)

But before you jump down my throat, all I'm asking is that you consider the possibility that there is no conspiracy to promote Mitch Daniels at the Star. In general, there are a lot of bad editors, but there aren't too many politically malicious ones. (Incidentally, Terry Burns, former communications director for the state party, was government editor at the Star before he took his job at One North Capitol. But as an editor, he had to edit and assign stories that were not favorable to Democrats. That's journalism. If you don't like it, you get out.)

If you're referring to Matt Tully as the "hungry" reporter, I'm not sure what that means. He's a good reporter. And he got assigned to cover Daniels. Which he did. And not all the stories were bright and glowing. Presumably, you're maligning Mary Beth Schneider's coverage of the Kernan campaign. Again, way off base. And out of line. If you knew Mary Beth, you'd know "lazy" is not only an inappropriate word -- it's offensive. And overtime? All the time.

As for Kevin Corcoran's reassignment to courts, he wasn't the only one to get shifted around. Editors are like mountain goats, and shiny things distract them. Periodically, and usually for no good reason, new folks will stir the pot just because they found a spoon nearby. They don't have an agenda. In fact, most times, they haven't really thought through the ramifications of their actions. They just want their people in the places where they think those people should be.

My biggest frustration, which I was trying to address in my previous response, is that we Democrats spend a whole lot of time whining about media bias without doing much to promote our candidates in a constructive way. (Hence my belief that it doesn't really matter who's at the top of the Indy Star. Those people are interchangeable.) And we also forget that at the end of the day, the newspaper doesn't vote. The people do. While media relations is a critical part of any campaign, it's not the only part.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Mitch Daniels' campaign did one helluva job branding their candidate. Yes, he had the added advantage of being able to travel the state and finance a lot of things, but beyond that, what they created, and what we failed to create, was an image that resonated with the public. Unfortunately for the public, they're coming to find out that the image was false. The brand they bought turned out to have some serious shortcomings, which will be good for us in 2008.

But until we realize that selling a candidate is not that much different from selling a bar of soap or a new line of soft drink, we're going to struggle through elections with an outdated playbook. I would walk to the end of the earth for Joe Kernan, because I like him personally. But if I'm Citizen X, and what I see of the man is a bunch of negative ads that don't in the slightest reflect his personality, I'm going to vote for the guy with the pretty green logo who says it's time for a change.

Having said all that, there may have been nothing we could've done to win that election, especially given the national political scene. It's all water under the bridge now, and what we're left to focus on is tomorrow. But we can always learn from our past missteps and others' successes.

I'm not defending Dennis Ryerson when I talk about the state of the modern newspaper. I'm just not going to get all bent out of shape about things I can't control or fix. I'm going to work on the things I can. Which is why I'm using this happy little corner of the Internet as my electronic soapbox.

You can hang out in this part of the park, or you can wander over to someone else's. I'd prefer you stay. The only way we're going to get stronger as a party is to let down our respective guards and be able to be objectively critical of ourselves. Otherwise, we're going to wind up relegated to the same forest from whence those Republicans came crusading last year.

Now, have at me. I've said some unpopular things here, and that may make some people mad. But I'm just a blog. I don't have feelings.

Good words, TDW. Good words.

This is a fun story. I don't want either side to win. The bigot at the Star who lost her job, nor the Star, who still has neanderthals like Tim Swarens, Norm Heikins, Gary Varvel and Andrea Neal regularly contributing. What a great reality show idea. Goof balls who try to out christian each other, nah that would be boring

Well, I'm in a much less argumentative mood tonight, probably because I feel more resignation than frustration from your response.

It's quite clear that I'm never going to convince you that the Star has an agenda, and that you will never convince me that Ryerson is a neutral observer.

What I would like to point out is that I was never whining, much less "spending all day" whining, about my perceived bias in our beloved hometown paper. I made a one-sentence comment that you grabbed and made an issue out of in my initial post.

Oh, I think they're dirtbags. I believe that My Man Dennis (along with Barbara Henry the Ice Queen, quite possibly the most inexplicalby angry person on the face of the planet) had a clear agenda, one that he is committed to backing up now. But I've never considered my opinion on this matter "whiny." Apparently, you got that impression.

To me, in the eternal words of Bob Davie, it is what it is. The Star is the Star. That's never going to change, and if I ever thought it would, then maybe I would consider whining about it. But it isn't, so who cares. To me, suggesting that Ryerson is an unbiased source is like Fox News calling themselves "fair and balanced." Yes, I disagree with every word that comes out of Bill O'Reilly's mouth, but he is what he is.

Maybe you should call Dennis and ask him what happened to the "Indiana Sucks" series. Where are the Heikens stories about how we're trailing the nation in every category you can think of? Did "jobs" all of a sudden cease to be an issue of importance in our state? Thank goodness that Ryerson is making sure we know all about the new RV1 design, in which mansion the first family will reside, what an "average guy" our governor is, and what Cheri is making for dinner tonight. But not ONE jobs story since the election.

Okay, maybe I am argumentative. Did you like the editorial today about how wonderful Mitch is to extend unemployment benefits to the teachers THAT HE LAID OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE?????? ARE YOU KIDDING??????

I'm done. This is a losing argument, TDW, because you are indeed a talented writer and arguer. You will effectively skewer this argument, because, I'll admit, you are better than me.

But don't you dare accuse me of "whining" about the Star. I would never blame a mosquito for biting my arm, because that's what they do. For the record, in case you're going to continue with my alleged conspiracy theory about media bias, here's just a few publications that I've never, and will never, "whine" about:

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Evansville Courier-Press
Louisville Courier-Journal
Gary Post-Tribune
Lafayette Journal & Press
Times of Northwest Indiana
Terre Haute Tribune-Star
Associated Press
Muncie Star-Press
South Bend Tribune
Left Shoe
MyGuvMitch.com
The Onion
Matt Drudge
Kofi Annan
Steve Laudig
Eeyore

Actually, my entire post was pretty much directed toward Democrats generally, not you specifically.

I didn't think I'd ever change your mind about the Star or Dennis Ryerson, who'll probably be gone in another six months anyway (given the track record of other Gannett editors). I mainly took offense to your characterization of reporters I've known for many years, whose work and work ethic I greatly respect.

Never once did I attempt to convince you that Dennis Ryerson is a neutral observer. I'm sure he's not. Such a creature, if we're honest with ourselves, is mythical. Some people in journalism do a good job of self-correcting; others do not. I just don't really think there's much point in -- since you don't like the word "whining" -- harping on what's over and done with.

Feed me information on what's happening in the here and now. Tell me what our Governor is doing. Submit records requests, and help TDW break stories. That, to me, is the greater purpose of the First Amendment, which, of course, also permits you to have and exercise your point of view on the media as a whole.

In the end, I just want our party to be as productive as it can be. And in my eyes, that means letting bygones become learning experiences, not bitter war stories.

LMAO. I love "Office Space". Milton is my hero.

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