Former Editorial Writers Charge ‘Indy Star’ with ‘Religious Discrimination’

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By: E&P Staff

Two former editorial writers at The Indianapolis Star have gone to court, charging that top newsroom managers “consistently and repeatedly demonstrated … a negative hostility toward Christianity.”

James Patterson and Lisa Coffey have sued the newspaper and its owner, Gannett Co., claiming religious, racial and age discrimination in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

The two are asking to be reinstated at the paper, and be compensated for lost income, benefits, emotional distress and unspecified punitive damages.

“Lisa and I aren’t the only employees that have been driven away from this company and we thought it was time for someone to say, ‘Goodness gracious. This isn’t right,'” Patterson said.

Patterson began work at the newspaper in 1989 and was fired May 5, the lawsuit said. Coffey resigned from the Star in October 2003 after she was relieved of her duties and was transferred to the paper’s copy desk.

In their lawsuit, the two allege Star Editor Dennis Ryerson and Publisher Barbara Henry said editorials perceived as proselytizing or containing Christian overtones could not be printed in the paper.

Patterson’s attorney, John Price, told local TV station WTHR, “James Patterson ran into this problem when he wrote an editorial and asked people to pray for the Iraqi war and one of the new persons assigned by Gannett said that the use of the word ‘prayer’ in an editorial offended him.”

Patterson told WTHR, “This is America. We have the right, under the first amendment, to express those views. At a newspaper, which has had a conservative voice for years and years and years, our argument is we should be allowed to express those views without being persecuted.”

Coffey said she was demoted to the copy desk because of her religious beliefs. She claims her problems began after the newspaper ran a series she wrote on sodomy.

According to a story in the Star today, Patterson and Coffey claim in the lawsuit that Ryerson and Henry were hostile toward Christianity and Christian employees at the paper. They also assert that Henry and Ryerson strongly disagreed “with anyone who had a biblical view of homosexuality.”

Ali Zoibi, vice president of human resources at The Star, said the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had investigated and dismissed the charges made by both Patterson, 51, who is black, and Coffey, 46, who is white.

“We do not discriminate,” Zoibi said in a statement.

Both former staffers claim to have “strong and sincere Christian religious beliefs.”

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