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Judge Tosses Evidence|in Discrimination Case

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (CN) - The Fund for Theological Education successfully argued certain evidence in an employment discriminate case against it is irrelevant, a federal judge ruled.

Plaintiffs James Ellison and Martha Wright, former employees of the Fund, which provides fellowships and grants to future pastors and other prospective Christian leaders, originally sued the defendant for unlawful termination on the Ohio County, W. Va. circuit court on Sept. 30, 2013.

They claim the Fund fired them because they were white and over 50, and as part of their case, they intended to bolster their discrimination claims by presenting evidence that other white employees were terminated after reaching their sixth decade.

But the Fund, which had the case removed to Federal Court, objecting, argued that the testimony should excluded because the plaintiffs failed to show how the prior firings where related to their own.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp Jr. agreed, holding that the fact certain employees who were white and over 50 were previously discharged doesn't prove the defendant engaged in a pattern of discriminatory behavior.

The plaintiffs, Stamp said, "[F]ail to provide sufficient context and analysis, or demonstrate how those terminations of employment are relevant or statistically significant in relation to the plaintiffs' situation.

"Further, those previous instances of termination that the plaintiffs seek to admit fail to show a connection between race or age and employment decisions," the judge continued. "The semi-statistical evidence that plaintiffs wish to use is speculative at best."

The Fund also sought to exclude evidence related to comments about workplace racism allegedly made during a sensitivity training session for employees in 2011.

Ellison and Wright claim during that during the session several employees complained that they were exposed to racism by both fellow employees and by Trace Haythorn, the Funds's former president.

Here, Judge Stamp ruled that the comments described are simply too remote from the plaintiffs' termination to be admitted.

"Further, none of the relevant decision-makers concerning the plaintiffs' termination of their employment were present," he wrote.

Stamp then went on to toss other "evidence" he deemed irrelevant to the case, including claims Ellison and Wright made concerning the Fund's termination of Haythorn's consulting contract.

Ellison and Wright say the Fund cut ties with Haythorn because he made racist comments to other employees.

"Similar to other evidence discussed above, plaintiffs here fail to provide sufficient information so as to show that Mr. Haythorn's contract was terminated due to discriminatory reasons," Stamp wrote. "Further, the comments between those parties do not relate to the termination of the plaintiffs' employment, or at least the plaintiffs fail to indicate how it does. Accordingly, such evidence is also excluded."

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