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

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