UPDATE: Judge clears way for Kansas City mayoral lawsuit

Thursday, July 2, 2009 | 1:00 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — A judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed against Mayor Mark Funkhouser by a former aide.

Ruth Bates sued Funkhouser and the city late last year, alleging that Funkhouser's wife routinely made sexually offensive comments while working as a volunteer in the office.

Following a two-hour hearing, Jackson County Judge Ann Mesle denied motions to dismiss the suit and to remove Funkhouser as a defendant. The trial is scheduled to begin July 27.

City attorneys argued that depositions from office workers showed that the mayor's wife, Gloria Squitiro, made the comments to both males and females in the office so she could not be accused of discriminating against Bates or other women. But Mesle said the graphic comments could still be the basis for a claim.

Funkhouser's attorney, Jim Wirken, argued that his client should be removed from the case because no testimony has shown that the mayor knew about his wife's inappropriate comments.

Bates' attorney, Lynn Bratcher, said the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that such decisions be left up to jurors.

While Mesle denied Wirken's motion to dismiss Funkhouser from the case, she said she might revisit the issue closer to the trial. Wirken then suggested he would appeal the decision, which could push the trial back by a year.

Mesle also denied Wirken's motion to enforce a proposed settlement between the mayor and Bates. Bratcher said the terms of the agreement were never clear and "there was no meeting of the minds."

Because the case has received so much media coverage, Mesle has asked for a large jury pool. The attorneys involved are drafting a 10-page questionnaire for potential jurors.

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