Lesbian couple sues town of Addison over discrimination

Addison town parking lot

Addison town parking lot

Two women have filed a lawsuit alleging the town of Addison and the selectboard chairman unfairly discriminated against them because they are lesbians.

 Attorney David Bond filed the suit on March 5 on behalf of Barbara Supeno and Barbara Ernst in Addison Superior Court.

 The complaint alleges the town unfairly penalized them in land use decisions because of anti-gay bias on the part of certain town officials.

It also details other instances of alleged intimidation and defamatory statements, including spray painted graffiti at the town offices and a defaming nine-page letter the two women believe was written by the selectboard chairman’s wife.

 Supeno and Ernst have been in an openly gay relationship for 21 years and in 2004 purchased property together on Lake Champlain.

Their complaint alleges that under the leadership of Selectboard Chairman Jeff Kauffman, the town issued baseless citations, levied unfair taxes, published defamatory statements and allowed encroachment by neighbors, among other unfair actions.

 The suit is also against Barbara Kauffman, the chairman’s wife and John and Linda Carrigan, a couple who own land adjacent to Ernst and Supeno’s property, according to the suit.

 A message spray-painted in 2012 on the parking lot of the town office read “I ♥ FAGS,” according to the suit. Ernst said the anti-gay graffiti was removed on March 5, when the town was contacted about the case.

 In 2011 an anonymous nine-page letter, titled “Addison Wikileaks,” was sent to town officials and local newspapers, alleging “devious and vicious” behavior by Ernst and Supeno, according to the suit. The couple believes Mrs. Kauffman wrote it.

 The complaint also alleges that the website of Hope Community Fellowship church in Bridgeport, where Kauffman is a pastor, until recently linked to religious, anti-gay websites.

 Kauffman Friday did not return a call for comment.

 The lawsuit also alleges the town and Kauffman violated a state statute that makes it illegal to discriminate in land use decisions or housing on the basis of sexual orientation.

 It details a set of discriminatory zoning decisions that have to do with neighbors, Rodger and Mary Sleeper, who moved five house trailers onto an adjoining lot and onto Ernst and Supeno’s property.

 The town promised to take action against the Sleepers but instead granted them a permit to allow the infraction, according to the suit.

 The town also engaged in several other discriminatory zoning decisions, the suit alleges, and frequently neglected to notify the couple about public meetings about their land and neighbors.

The suit charges the Kauffmans and Carrigans with one count each of defamation, false light invasion of privacy and interference with prospective business relations.

It charges Jeff Kauffman and the town with one count each of sexual orientation discrimination, common law retaliation and violation of the common benefits clause.

The plaintiffs ask the court for an unspecified amount of money in damages. They also asked for an injunction barring the town from engaging in further discriminatory acts.

RU12?, a Burlington community center that advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Vermonters, is promoting the case in support of the plaintiffs.

“At the (RU12?) Center, we devote significant resources to building safe communities in Vermont,” said executive director Kim Fountain. “It is our sincerest hope that Ms. Ernst and Ms. Supeno find the justice they deserve.”

Laura Krantz

Comments

  1. Paul Lorenzini :

    It’s a crazy world.

    • Shirlie Marlene Slater :

      Some things don’t change. Years ago my daughter and I stopped en route from Boston to Brandon, VT to visit relatives to have lunch in Bellows Falls. We sat at the counter with a room full of diners behind us and were pulicly humiliated by a fat waitress with bad skin who smirked and ignored us until we finally got up and left. After that I met someone from Bellows Falls and asked her what on earth that was all about. She said, “They thought you were lesbians.”

  2. William Floyd :

    In a crazy world where everyone believes they are a victim (and therefore due some damages or relief), this may mark a new low in frivolous lawsuits. Or, it could be a case of some town officials who erred and now are being smeared as anti-gay. Remember folks; almost all controversies with local zoning and taxes have two sides and the law tightly proscribes the discretionary power of towns in denials like this. Could it be that the couple simply have their knickers in a knot because things didn’t go there way? Join the club. Perhaps they should seek relief by opposing restrictive local and state land use laws and become part of the local planning process, run for the zoning board, etc.? Perhaps even become Republicans… or, God forbid, join the Tea Party.

    • Karl Riemer :

      Do you have any information that the facts of this case are other than exactly as alleged? If the allegations are true, this is the opposite of a frivolous lawsuit. If they are not, it may be frivolous, but right now they are simply serious allegations of official misconduct. Do you actually know anything at all about this case, or are you just hanging your ignorance and general resentment on the clothesline for the world to gawk at?

  3. Ross Laffan :

    So, the graffiti was spray painted in the parking lot of the town office in 2012 and was only removed last week? That could be a clue as to the thinking of the people who work in the town offices of Addison, Vermont. Maybe Addison could be annexed to Arizona.

  4. “…. moved five house trailers onto an adjoining lot and onto Ernst and Supeno’s property. The town promised to take action against the Sleepers but instead granted them a permit to allow the infraction, according to the suit.”

    Floyd says, “.. Perhaps they should seek relief by opposing restrictive local and state land use laws…”

    Where is the logic in this? Are you so biased against gays that you can’t see straight?

  5. Fred Woogmaster :

    The remedy is in the relationship.
    There is no relationship.
    There is no remedy.

    The Rule of Law will determine guilt with no real solution or remedy.

    When there are conflicting assertions in a climate in which the possibility of discrimination is raised, all participants lose – frequently.

    And the lawyers always win.
    Go figure!

  6. Jamie Carter :

    Much of this seems to be very frivilous, especially for a lawsuit, but there are some issue that absolutely require some clarification from the town.

    The arguments against the Mrs Kaufmann have no merit, you can sue someone because you “think” they wrote a letter. You would need to “know” they wrote the letter…

    The graffiti is another issue… someone painted it and when the town was contacted they went ahead and removed it. They didn’t leave it there or ignore the complaint… they did exactly what they should do which was remove it when they were notified. These allegations kind of make the lawsuit look frivilous.

    However, the trailer debacle certainly does deserve some scrutiny. Although on it’s face does not imply discrimination.

    • krister adams :

      Jaime: The graffiti was spray painted at Town offices – they had to be notified of this?!

      • Jamie Carter :

        It was on the parking lot… during the winter… in Vermont… where there is typically ice and snow present????

        And the message wasn’t exactly a hate message. I’m sure they were waiting for warm weather to go out and remove it. They were notified that it was offending someone so they went out despite the weather and removed it.

        Regardless, unless they can show that the town authorized it or painted it themselves its usefulness in this case is nil.

        They have a point with the trailers, but that appears to be it.

        • Eric Johnson :

          Are you seriously defending the Town’s failure to remove a hate message spray painted in a prominent spot way back in 2012?

          The town employees saw this message every day for over a year, yet never took action?

          What does this say about their support of this message?

          The citizens of Addison should be very disappointed in the representatives of their town.

        • Karl Riemer :

          They were not waiting for warm weather. They left it through two summers in front of the town offices. Also, if you’ve never been to Addison, ice and snow is not a big feature of their parking lot even in winter.
          Whether or not a message is hateful depends on the relationship and intent behind it. This being anonymous vandalism, the language being insulting and the placement extremely public, an inference of hatefulness is pretty well justified. Swap in racist terminology and say with a straight face they needed to be informed it “was offending someone”. The question is: why weren’t *they* offended? What kind of creepinoid shines on crap like that on town property?

        • krister adams :

          I don’t buy it. Did they spray paint on dry pavement? If so, why didn’t they (police)_ remove it when there was dry pavement? Or did they scrape down the ice and snow, spray paint it, then cover it back up with ice and snow? mY POINT IS NOT TO GET IN A SILLY ARGUMENT BUT TO POINT OUT THERE IS INDEED ACTS OF HATE IN THIS WORLD/vt AND THEY SHOULD BE IMMEDIATELY SQUASHED.

          And your assertion they were notified it was offending “someone” is ridiculous. Of course this would offend many – even me, a hetero sexual male who lives 75 miles away!

        • Jared Hart :

          “It was on the parking lot… during the winter… in Vermont… where there is typically ice and snow present????”

          The article states the graffiti showed up in 2012. There was at least one full summer between 2012 and 5 days ago, including many months of warm graffiti-removin’ weather.

    • Jeremy Stiles :

      How can a permit be issued to use land that is not yours to park trailers on.

      That alone is reason enough to investigate.

      • Jamie Carter :

        I’m sure there are minutes from the meeting, it would be informative to view them.

        It would have been nice if this article was a little less one sided.

        • Karl Riemer :

          The article is about a lawsuit recently filed. A refutation will probably come out in time (certainly, if this goes to trial) but it’s unrealistic to expect it to magically appear or for the article to wait for it. The relevant minutes are of many meetings over many years. Many of the allegations are of omissions, private conversations and anonymous publications, none of which leaves minutes. It would be nice if investigative journalists had instant access to all the relevant information, but nothing could be further from current reality. Investigative journalism today relies on on-the-record interviews and statements for publication, in other words, what the principles want heard. Anything beyond that takes time and resources. You can’t expect full coverage of a news story on its first day, if ever. History is written after it happens.

  7. Hale Irwin :

    Vermont at its’ worst!

  8. Wayne Andrews :

    If the town officials left the message there it implies endorsement. If the officials take measures to remove the graffiti they are tampering with evidence. Go figure.

    • Peter Liston :

      Cleaning up offensive graffiti is not “tampering with evidence”. It’s responsible stewardship of public property.

      • Elle Cousman :

        In reality, and I know because I live in Addison, it was discussed by the town officials and the road commissioner how to deal with the situation. If you paint over paint on asphalt, because of the difference in texture, it makes it legible permanently. If you leave it alone, it fades by itself. The commissioner then added an “L” to the last word to change the meaning of the sentence, attempting to make it harmless rather than discriminatory.

  9. Kris Anderson :

    Regardless of any zoning issues (the facts of which should come out through the Zoning Board Minutes) it is sad that there are people in our town with such poor character as to resort to hateful graffiti and annonymous letters to disparage people they dislike. The people who preformed these acts likely think they are on moral high ground…their behavior has proven just the opposite is true.

  10. Wayne Andrews :

    Mr. Liston you are dead wrong and obviously never been in local govt and/or a courtroom. There are many reasonable factors that could have gone into not cleaning the graffiti immediately. I will state that it should have been cleaned after all the circumstances surrounding the issue were taken care of.

    • Peter Liston :

      What ‘circumstances’ needed to be taken care of before cleaning this up?

      I’ve been in local government for a long time. I know how to deal with graffiti. You ask the police to come and document it and you clean it up.

      If someone burned a cross or a flag on public property, you wouldn’t leave it there for 2 years until the “circumstances had passed”.

  11. Wayne Andrews :

    I am not condoning the 2 year period that does sound a tad long.
    Maybe cameras got installed after the fact and the powers to be were waiting…. or it might have been fresh blacktop whose warranty be voided if a third party altered the coating or the type of paint needed sampling to match the paint discovered by police or linked to other graffiti in town. Or it could have been laziness.

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