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Being gay cost her a job, woman testifies

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A woman who was denied a position as the Bob Burdette Center's executive director, allegedly because the center's board members discovered that she was a lesbian, said Tuesday that the post was her "dream come true."

Last year, Jessica Hudson sued the religiously affiliated West Side after-school program after the board hired her to the executive director position but then rescinded the offer days later, based on inaccuracies in her résumé.

Hudson's attorneys allege that the board ultimately snubbed Hudson because a Bob Burdette Center staffer looked on her Facebook page and found out that she was in a relationship with another woman.

During trial testimony Tuesday in Kanawha Circuit Court, Hudson testified that she told board members in the initial job interview, "Welcome to my dream come true." She was devastated, she said, when board President Sam Sommerville called her and told her that the offer had been pulled.

"To me, it seemed a little surreal," Hudson testified.

Sommerville, according to Hudson, accused her of lying about her place on a Charleston Area Alliance subcommittee and her membership at the Witcher Baptist Church. The board also alleged that Hudson misled them on her résumé by writing that she "completed all courses with a concentration in the education field" at Concord University.

Hudson attended Concord, but took only two classes geared toward education and did not receive a bachelor's degree, she said.

She stood by her résumé during Tuesday's testimony. She was not heavily involved with the Charleston Area Alliance at the time she applied for the job at the Bob Burdette Center, she said, but confirmed that she served as the chairwoman of a two-person subcommittee and that she still had contact with many of the organization's members.

Her lawyer, Rick Brown, handed her a Bible with an inscription that indicated that Witcher Baptist Church officials dedicated the book to her after her baptism in 1993. Hudson testified that she and her family had been heavily involved with the church for many years and that she tried to convey that to Sommerville.

"I just kept repeating that I'm a member of the church," she said.

The board did not post that a bachelor's degree was a requirement for the executive director job in initial newspaper advertisements. They did not give Hudson a job description until she was invited to a follow-up interview, she said, adding that even at the follow-up the board did not specifically ask her if she had a degree.

The Bob Burdette Center is headquartered on West Washington Street and runs after-school programs at various area churches that serve more than 200 children of ages from kindergarten to the 12th grade, according to the original lawsuit.

Former board member Luke Farley testified Thursday that he understood that the board decided to renege on Hudson's offer over the apparent inaccuracies in her résumé, which he said she should have been allowed to explain.

"The other issue was that she was a lesbian," he testified. "[And that] it could be an issue if the face of the organization is a lesbian."

Farley resigned from his post because of how the board treated Hudson.

"I always thought sexuality and religion were things that could coexist," he said.

Hudson said that she found out through another board member that the board's decision to rescind the offer had nothing to do with her qualifications. The board member called Hudson after he resigned.

"He said, 'Jessica, you're gay,'" Hudson testified.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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