Judge rules discrimination lawsuit against Bob Burdette Center can go to trial
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster denied a motion to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit against a West Side community center Thursday.
Barring any settlements, the case of Jessica A. Hudson versus the Bob Burdette Center is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 7. Jury selection is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Hudson, 34, alleges the center rescinded an offer to hire her as the executive director because board members believed she was a lesbian. She is seeking punitive damages.
Webster dismissed the count of discrimination based on sexual orientation, saying that sexual orientation is not a protected class under the state Human Rights Act.
However, she also ruled there were sufficient facts for the case to go to jury based on the allegations of discrimination based on gender stereotyping. Jurors will also hear the count that the Bob Burdette Center violated public policy by firing Hudson.
Charleston has a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The count that the center intentionally caused Hudson emotional distress by firing her will also go to the jury.
Rick Brown, Hudson's attorney, said he was "pleased" with Webster's ruling, despite the ruling that sexual orientation is not protected under state law.
"And in fact, it is not," he said. "But we've been arguing all along that this is about gender discrimination based on gender stereotyping."
"The court has found that the West Virginia Human Rights Act does not specifically recognize or include sexual orientation as a protected class," Brown added. "But gender stereotyping is actionable under Human Rights Act."
Brown has been arguing that Hudson was fired because she did not fit into the board members' idea of how a woman should act. Brown has argued that the Bob Burdette Center fired Hudson because a woman dating another woman does not fit into their beliefs of how a female should act.
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and turned in her two-week notice to her previous employer, two board members called to tell her the offer had been rescinded, according to a complaint filed at the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's office.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 argued in an Oct. 17 hearing on the motion to dismiss that Hudson was fired because she misrepresented herself on her resume and during an interview.
Mincer also argued that Hudson was not fired because the board perceived that she was a lesbian.
Hudson stated in her resume that she had attended classes at Concord University, causing board members to believe she had obtained a degree when in fact she had not, Mincer said during the hearing.
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.
Brown countered by saying Hudson told board members she had not obtained a degree from Concord during an interview. Instead, the board opted to fire Hudson after employees at the center looked at her Facebook profile.
The profile indicated that Hudson was in a relationship with another woman, Brown said.
Mincer would not comment on Webster's ruling on the motion to dismiss the counts. He said discussing pending litigation violated attorney ethics.
"There is a civil litigation process in place for this," Mincer said.
Charleston City Council had previously funded the Bob Burdette Center because it runs after-school programs at four different locations throughout the city.
However, council members unanimously voted to pass a 2012-2013 budget that did not include any funding for the center.
Council also voted to withhold $13,500 allocated in 2011.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones believes the Bob Burdette Center owes Hudson for firing her just days after she had turned in her two-week notice to her pervious employer.
"We'll see what happens in the trial," Jones said.
However, Jones will still not support funding the center no matter what happens in Webster's courtroom, he said.
Jones said he would not support funding the center because he believes board members discriminated against Hudson because of her perceived sexual orientation.