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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 6, 2006

Artist sues boss who introduced her as lesbian

Medina, Ohio--An artist is suing her supervisor for being called lesbian on the job.

The suit was filed September 14 in Medina County Common Pleas Court by Debra Cowdin of North Olmsted.

Although the suit calls it a �defamatory� statement, Cowdin�s lawyer says the suit is not anti-lesbian, but about the inappropriate and mean-spirited way the comment was made in the workplace. He added that Cowdin isn�t lesbian.

Cowdin is seeking $25,000 compensatory damages and another $25,000 punitive damages from Cory Morris of Seville. She also asks for a jury trial.

According to the complaint, Morris was Cowdin�s supervisor at Ohio Wholesale, a Seville giftware company.

Cowdin was hired as an artist in September, 2005, and says that Morris introduced her to co-workers as a lesbian several days later. This prompted some to ask her about a lesbian relationship they thought she was having with another employee.

A month later, Cowdin overheard colleagues at lunch discussing among themselves whether or not she is lesbian.

At a December trade show in Los Angeles, Morris introduced Cowdin to a meeting by saying, �if you ever want to know what a lesbian looks like, look at Deby Cowdin.�

The complaint continues that later that day, Cowdin filed a complaint to Morris� supervisor over that remark. A month later, co-workers told her that her �days were numbered� because she had become a �troublemaker.�

�As a direct and proximate result of [Morris�] malicious actions, conduct, and defamatory statements, Ms. Cowdin�s reputation, sexual orientation, and veracity were brought into issue and questioned by her co-workers and supervisors, as well as trade show guests,� wrote Cowdin�s attorney J. Michael Goldberg of Cleveland.

�Defendant Morris� statements were made intentionally, willfully, maliciously, and with conscious and utter disregard for Ms. Cowdin�s rights and reputation, and were substantially likely to cause harm.�

Goldberg told the court, �Defendant Morris� unwarranted remarks constituted defamation and slander per se.�

Goldberg said Cowdin is still with the company, but was moved to a different department as a result of what happened, which she considers a demotion.

He said Cowdin�s lesbian label is �not true, but not relevant.�

�Being called gay or lesbian is not slanderous in the sense that it is,� Goldberg said, pointing out that this suit is not a judgment on being gay or lesbian.

�It�s the context,� said Goldberg. �This is the workplace environment.�

�There�s nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian,� Goldberg said. �But this was mean-spirited, and it�s about the context of where, when, and how the comments were made, and the effect it had on the work environment.�

Goldberg said more evidence will come out as the suit progresses.

Morris has not yet answered the complaint, and no attorney has yet made an appearance on his behalf.

The case is before Judge James Kimbler.


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