In a landmark decision, a Massachusetts court ruled that a Catholic school discriminated against a gay employee when it rescinded his employment contract because of his same-sex marriage.
In 2013, Matthew Barrett had been offered employment as the food services director at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts. But the job offer was taken back after Barrett listed his husband, Ed Suplee, as his emergency contact.
“Fontbonne’s discrimination ‘because of’ Barrett’s same-sex marriage is undisputed and, as shown above, amounts to discriminatory intent as a matter of law. . .It is clear that, because he is male, he suffered gender discrimination when he was denied employment for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.”
Ben Klein of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented Barrett, said “you can’t have equality if you can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday.” This ruling is the first of its kind barring anti-gay discrimination at religious institution, said Klein.
Fontbonne Academy had sought a religious exemption in the case, but Judge Wilkins denied such claims. They would apply only if the school limited “membership, enrollment, or participation” to Catholics, but Fontbonne allows students of all or no faith, and it requires only administrators and theology faculty be Catholic. The Globe further explained:
“Wilkins also ruled that hiring Barrett as a food services director would not interfere with the school’s ability to promote the message of the Catholic church because the job does not have any teaching or administrative responsibilities.”
Barrett now awaits a hearing to determine damages, which would include lost wages and other damages, according to his lawyer.
This decision means justice for Matthew Barrett. It sets a legal precedent that Massachusetts religious institutions cannot wantonly discriminate against LGBT employees by using religious exemption definitions broadly. What it does not rectify are the thirteen public incidents in 2015 where LGBT and Ally church workers lost their jobs nor the more than 60 which have occurred since 2008. Because this was a state court decision, and it may not be applicable to similar situations in other states.
Fontbonne Academy is in the Archdiocese of Boston, which is headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He is a close adviser to Pope Francis and the only American prelate to speak out against the firing of LGBT church workers, telling Bondings 2.0 that it is a situation “needs to be rectified” in 2014. O’Malley should use the occasion of this ruling to implement LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies at all archdiocesan schools, parishes, and agencies. Policies could be modeled on those approved by Germany’s bishops earlier this year, or the policy adopted by St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon. Such a move would help make real the cardinal’s desire to ending these firings and be a model for others in the U.S. Church to follow.
You can take action to stop the firings! Consider getting an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry