Rutter Law Firm
Facing the attorney general’s office in a conservative venue, Rachel Rutter of the Rutter Law Firm won a case for a lesbian client who faced discrimination at the Department of Corrections.
Plaintiff Jean Finney sued her employer, the Department of Corrections, after it failed to address discrimination and sexual harassment that she faced for 20 years.
“She wasn’t there to ask the jury for $5 million,” Rutter said. “She was there to ask the jury to recognize that she’s a human with civil rights, and they did that.”
In Buchanan County, Rutter said that Finney faced a jury pool that made statements including, “Being gay is a sin just like stealing is a sin.”
“We asked the jury pool who agreed with that statement,” Rutter said. “You should have seen the number of hands that popped up.”
According to Rutter, the opposing counsel claimed that there was no evidence of discrimination, only a private feud that allegedly shouldn’t have affected her work.
Rutter said the under-the-radar behavior of Finney’s coworker Jon Colborn escalated into allegation-worthy discrimination after Finney began dating his ex-wife. According to the initial plaintiff complaint, Colborn told the ex-wife that he planned to undermine Finney’s career and turn the office against her. Over a period of 11 years, he allegedly made false HR complaints against Finney that HR investigated while ignoring many of Finney’s complaints against him.
Colborn allegedly tried to intimidate Finney through his ex-wife via derogatory messages referring to Finney’s identity and appearance as a lesbian. After a woman employee testified on a panel that addressed one of Colborn’s complaints against Finney, Colborn made statements insinuating that the two women were having an affair.
Supervisors repeatedly ignored her concerns, according to the plaintiff complaint. In 2016, Finney’s work badge was stolen out of her locker at least once a week during a period of six months.
She also discovered multiple times that her phone number in the shared office’s institutional phone list had been crossed out. When a supervisor did take action and warn the office of a camera being installed, the plaintiff complaint noted that her coworkers were openly angry. By the time she filed a lawsuit, none of her supervisors disciplined her coworkers in any way.
The majority of the jury, against all odds, agreed that the DOC failed to discipline employees who had undermined Finney’s work. The attorney general’s office has since appealed.
Rutter, who shared that she is also a lesbian, never imagined as a kid that she would be a lawyer much less represent a client who shared her identity. She also said that she doesn’t let what happens in the courtroom get to her.
“When you’re a trial lawyer and you’re up in front of the jury, it’s not about you,” Rutter said. “It’s about your presentation and your skills, but nothing is about you. You have to keep your cool, you can’t let your emotions get the best of you, and you have to be there and be present and as professional as possible.”