Judge to rule on discrimination suit motion
Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster should rule on a motion to throw out a lawsuit against a West Side community center by Monday.
Webster heard arguments on a motion for summary judgment in the case of Jessica A. Hudson versus the Bob Burdette Center.
Hudson, 34, of Charleston, alleges the center's board of directors rescinded its offer to hire her as the executive director because they believed she was a lesbian. She is seeking punitive damages in the case.
The center hired Hudson to fill the executive director's position in the summer of 2011.
However, a few days after she accepted the position and turned in her two-week notice to her previous employer, two board members called to tell her the offer had been rescinded, according to a complaint filed at the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's office.
Bob Burdette Center attorney David Mincer said the organization fired Hudson because she had misled the board members in her resume and during the interview, not because of a perception she was in a relationship with another woman.
Hudson stated in her resume that she had attended classes at Concord University, leading board members to believe that she had received a degree from the institution, Mincer said. Although she attended classes there, she did not graduate.
Mincer also argued that Hudson had stated she was chairwoman of a professional committee with the Charleston Area Alliance, which turned out to be untrue.
Rick Brown, Hudson's attorney, argued she had never been asked if she received a degree from the university. He also claimed she didn't know a degree was required until right before her interview when she was handed a job description.
Board members were so impressed with Hudson that they canceled the rest of their interviews and offered her the job, Brown said.
Instead of misrepresentation, Hudson was fired because employees at the center looked at her Facebook profile upon learning that she was hired, he said. The Facebook profile indicated that Hudson was in a relationship with another woman, Brown said.
Neither the state Human Rights Act nor federal law protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation, Mincer said.
"She is not a member of a protected class," he said.
Mincer pointed out that the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee attempted to pass an amendment to the act adding sexual orientation when Webster was chairwoman.
"The Legislature decided not to do that," Mincer said.
On the other hand, Brown argued that federal law protects discrimination based on gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are the perceptions of how men and women should act.
The stereotype that applies in this case is that people believe a woman should only be in a relationship with a man or no one at all, Brown said.
And since employees and board members fired Hudson because she was with another women and did not fit into their beliefs of how a woman should act, it is a violation of both federal and state law, he said.
"But for the fact that she is a female, she'd be working there now," Brown said.
Brown also pointed to Charleston's ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mincer argued that the case was being heard in a circuit court and that city code does not trump state or federal law.
He added that Charleston's ordinance could not be forced on other cities in the state.
The Bob Burdette Center, which is headquartered on Washington Street West, runs after-school programs at four different locations throughout the city.
Charleston City Council eliminated all funding for the center in the 2012-2013 budget. Council also voted to withhold $13,500 allocated in 2011.
"This case isn't about money, it's about a group of people that have been treated unfairly for a long time," Brown said.