Former employee suing Clerk of Court

The Digital Courier, North Carolina/January 5, 2011

Rutherfordton - A former Rutherford County Clerk's Office employee has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Clerk of Court Robynn Spence alleging discrimination based on religion.

Ramona Hall, an assistant clerk of Superior Court who was not reappointed when Spence took office in December 2008, says she lost her job because she is a member of Word of Faith Fellowship. The case was filed Nov. 30, 2010, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in Asheville.

Hall is seeking a jury trial in the case.

In the complaint filed by attorney John W. Gresham on her behalf, Hall describes Word of Faith Fellowship as "a Protestant, Non-Denominational church, whose members believe in powerful prayer in tongues and do not participate in the celebration of commercial holidays or the playing of secular music and whose practices are viewed with suspicion by a number of Protestant churches, including Baptist churches." The reference to the Baptist church is made because the complaint adds that Spence is a member of Walls Baptist Church.

In part, the complaint claims that Spence participated in an online forum March 16, 2003, in which she wrote, "Over the past few months I have lost a lot of sleep over this cult. I'm willing to lose alot (sic) more if it will help bring them down. … It is time Ramona, Laura (Bridges), and Keith (Melton, then clerk of court) pay for all the pain they have caused." And the alleged comments by Spence end with, "We want to rid this good county of these evil people." (This text allegedly was written in all caps.)

At the time of the alleged remarks in the forum, Spence was working for attorney Peter Lane, the complaint says, and "Lane filed at least three lawsuits against Word of Faith or its church leaders."

The complaint also says, "Hall and Bridges were not offered interviews (to be retained in their jobs) because of their religion and not because of their job performance."

Hall adds in the complaint, "Spence made it known to judges, attorneys and other court personnel that she found Hall's religious beliefs and affiliations repugnant."

Hall notes that she and Bridges were the only employees not reappointed by Spence, with the exception of two other workers who had previously announced their intent to resign.

Hall is basing her claim on the first and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, on Article 1, Sections 1, 13 and 19 of the N.C. State Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Section 1983).

Hall seeks compensatory damages, "including damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, harm to Plaintiff's economic relations and opportunities, back pay, front pay and future loss of earnings with cost of living adjustments, interest, fringe benefits, and retirement benefits."

She also seeks "punitive damages for the extreme and outrageous acts taken by Defendant in willfully violating both state and federal law."

Hall further wants to be reinstated to the job and to recover her costs and expenses in the case.

Spence is being sued "in her official and individual capacity."

The clerk of court will be represented by the N.C. Attorney General's Office. An afternoon call to Pamela Best with the Legal and Legislative Services division of the Administrative Office of the Courts seeking comment on the case was not returned by press time.

Also a call to Hall's attorney, Gresham, was not returned.

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