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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cuyahoga County gives $100,000 to former worker, settling sexual-orientation bias case

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A former Cuyahoga County employee won a $100,000 in the settlement of a sexual-orientation bias case.

Shari Hutchinson, a lesbian who worked for nearly eight years at the county's child support enforcement agency, sued the county in 2008 and claimed she was denied promotions because she was openly gay. She also claimed administrators retaliated against her when she complained.

Hutchinson and her lawyers announced the settlement Wednesday at a news conference at the City Club of Cleveland.

She said she was content with the settlement because it means she stood up for her rights. "I've seen a lot of discrimination and I'm afraid that other people could lose their jobs," said Hutchinson, 52.

Cuyahoga County Law Director Majeed Makhlouf declined to comment on the case.
"The settlement speaks for itself," Makhlouf said.

Hutchinson said she applied for more than 25 job promotions during her tenure at the county agency, but all were denied. She said county administrators passed her over for higher-paying positions and instead promoted or hired less qualified, straight workers.

In an effort to prevent a promotion, a supervisor told his boss that Hutchinson "writes for a 'lesbian porn magazine' and her license plate, PACK8, has her lesbian 'pen name,' " according to the lawsuit.

The county had fought Hutchinson, arguing that gays and lesbians do not fall under the Equal Protection Law of the U.S. Constitution.

But U.S. District Judge James Gwin of the Northern District of Ohio rejected the county's argument in late April.

In his decision to allow the case to move forward, Gwin criticized the county for arguing that "all of Hutchinson's claims must fail because sexual orientation is not a protected class, and thus does not merit the constitutional protection, under the Equal Protection Clause, that Hutchinson seeks."

After an effort by the county to have evidence dismissed, Gwin ruled in late September that the case should be heard by a jury. Days after this ruling, county attorneys began negotiating the settlement.

Hutchinson, who continued to work during the litigation, is currently unemployed. As part of the settlement, Hutchinson said, she is not allowed to work at any county department except for judicial offices.

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