Gay Couple Sues Vt. Town for 10 Years of Alleged Discrimination

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Monday Mar 10, 2014

A same-sex couple filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a Vermont town, claiming that the town's community discriminated against them for nearly a decade, Burlington, Vt.'s ABC-affiliate TV station WPTZ reports.

Barbara Ernst and her partner of 21 years, Barbara Supeno, who reside Addison, Vt., are suing the town, which has a population of 1,371, for more than a decade of alleged discrimination. The couple's lawyer, David Bond, told WPTZ that the town's officials tried to get the women to leave since they moved there in 2004.

"It's entirely based on their sexual orientation," Bond told the station. "Neighbors insulted them, made obscene gestures to them. There were dead animals left on their property."

Bond said Ernst and Supeno's property were the subject of two zoning meetings but the women were never informed about the discussions.

According to the complaint, the couple filed a number issues with the town about neighbors and zoning regulations. Bond said the town's officials purposefully refused to respond to them, however.

Another zoning issue occurred when a handicap ramp was created at the home of Supeno's mother, Bond said. In the complaint, Bond said the town clerk refused to accept an application the town required.

In 2011, someone circulated a letter around Addison that said the women were con artists. The letter was called "The truth about The Barbaras." WPTZ has a passage from the letter:

"It has been over 6 years that the Subject two women have been passing themselves off as involved citizens and very concerned about the town direction and in particular with Zoning, the school and the environment. Beware: This is a totally phony perception that they have fabricated is a front to cover their devious and vicious behavior."

Bond said, a year later a lawyer from Middlebury, Vt., received a letter allegedly from the couple, claiming the couple would not pay him for his services.

"We just thought we would give you a heads up as to our past games with previous attorneys in the state of VT and also lawyers in Middlebury," the letter reads in part. "We love to play head games with them and give them a run for their money." Ernst and Supeno said they sent no such letter.

In another incident, an anti-gay slur was spray-painted outside the town offices, though it is unknown if it is related to the couple, but Ernst and Supeno believe it is.

"Their hope is this lawsuit will change things," Bond told Fox 44, referring to his clients. "Civil rights laws are very favorable in recognizing in that there shouldn't be discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and they never expected they would be moving into this hotbed of hatred."

The head of the local zoning committee, Jeff Kaufmann, who also serves a Baptist Minister, is named as a codefendant in the case. The suit also names two neighbors as codefendants and details six counts: defamation, discrimination based on sexual orientation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference with prospective business relations, common law retaliation and violations of common benefits clause.


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