- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Court of Appeals on Tuesday revived the lawsuits of two women who say that Omaha’s public water and natural gas utility discriminated against them by passing them over for a job that went to a less-qualified man.

Kristina Hartley and Sherri Meisinger sued the Metropolitan Utilities District in 2011, saying they each had applied for a job promotion to a managerial position that would have provided increased pay. Although both had worked for the utility for more than 20 years and met educational and other requirements of the supervisor’s job, the position was given to a man they say did not meet the posted job’s educational requirements who had only worked at the utility for about four years.

Court records show that when the managerial job was posted in early 2010, it required applicants to have two years of college in an area related to engineering, but that a degree in engineering was preferred. Candidates also were required to have utility pipeline locating experience within the last five years - even though the man who previously held the position had no such experience.

In Meisinger’s case, she argued that despite having seniority and an engineering degree, she was passed over. MUD officials testified that Meisinger did not meet the job’s qualifications because she did not have recent utility-locating experience, but Meisinger said she routinely located utility lines using paper maps. She said MUD did not provide her with line-locating equipment for her job as a senior engineer tech, but that she is able to use such equipment and asked to be allowed to demonstrate as much. Her request was denied.

In Hartley’s case, a jury found for the utility in November 2013. Hartley had argued that she had a bachelor’s degree in interior design and many years of utility line locating, but said MUD officials sought to derail her efforts for the promotion. Days after she applied, she testified, she was given a written performance review that declared she did not show potential for advancement and questioned her communication skills. It was the first performance appraisal Hartley had received in seven years.

The man hired for the managerial post did not have either a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. The person who recommended his hiring testified that he had two years’ worth of college courses, including “some engineering coursework.”

The appeals court found Tuesday that Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk was wrong to dismiss Meisinger’s lawsuit, saying a jury should have been allowed to decide the merits of her case.

The appeals court also ordered a new trial for Hartley, saying the judge wrongly excluded from her trial the testimony of Hartley and another woman passed over for the job, Shala Chevalier, who might have shown a pattern of discrimination by MUD. Chevalier’s discrimination lawsuit against MUD is pending.

An attorney for the women, Joy Shiffermiller, said Tuesday they will seek compensation for the difference in pay the promotion would have provided.

“They would also like to be considered for a promotion,” Shiffermiller said.

An attorney for MUD, Ron Bucher, emphasized that the appeals court decision does not give credence to the women’s claims.

“We do not believe that we discriminated against either employee,” Bucher said. For that reason, the utility is not considering a settlement.

That leaves MUD the options of asking the appeals court to reconsider, appealing to the Nebraska Supreme Court or preparing for new trials. Bucher said the utility is reviewing its options.

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