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Kanawha jury: Sexual discrimination reversed job offer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County jury found Friday evening that three members of the West Side's Bob Burdette Center board did not appoint a woman to head the nonprofit afterschool program because they'd discovered she is a lesbian.

After a two-week trial and two days of deliberation, the jury found that board members Sam Sommerville, Ron Stoner and Norm Cannada violated public policy of sexual orientation discrimination by rescinding Jessica Hudson's job offer to be center's executive director.

During the trial before Circuit Judge Carrie Webster, Hudson's attorneys argued that the board members pulled the job offer after a Bob Burdette Center staffer looked on her Facebook page and saw that she was in a relationship with another woman.

"It's very ironic to me because, through this whole thing, there's been this talk of not wanting me to be the face of an organization," Hudson said after the jury read the verdict Friday evening. "I've, through this, become the face of something much bigger than that."

Although the jury found that the three board members discriminated against Hudson, the panel did not award any money. Hudson said the case was not about money.

"I wanted justice," she said. "I wanted to know that I wasn't the only one that felt what had happened was wrong."

Dave Mincer, lawyer for the board members, did not comment.

Last year, Hudson applied for the after-school program's vacant executive director position and had two interviews with the board members, who agreed to hire her.

After she accepted the position and after she quit her own job, though, Sommerville called her and pulled the offer, accusing her of lying on her résumé. She learned through another board member, who resigned amidst the controversy, that Sommerville, Stoner and Cannada were concerned that the "face of the organization" would be a lesbian, according to trial testimony.

The jurors also found that the center's board did not discriminate against Hudson based on gender stereotypes and that they were not liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Individually, board members Mark Miller and Jean Cunningham were absolved of all allegations in the lawsuit.

The jury did not reach a decision until about 6:15 p.m. Friday. Hudson spent several moments standing in a corner of the courtroom with a box of tissues.

"For anybody out there living in fear, just be who you are," she said. "I think this is the beginning of a change, the beginning of a new day."

The parties said it is not clear whether there will be an appeal.

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


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