A federal court in Chicago has ruled that a fired gay church worker’s discrimination case against his former employers may proceed as he had hoped.
The Archdiocese of Chicago had filed a motion to dismiss former music director Colin Collette’s lawsuit against both Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, Illinois, and the archdiocese itself. The court ruled against the Archdiocese’s motion, reported the Chicago Daily Herald, and said the case over whether Collette was fired for “entering into a ‘nonsacramental marriage'” may proceed.
Kerry Lavelle, the church worker’s lawyer, said they were “extremely pleased” with the ruling because they “believed all along that Colin has an actionable claim.” She continued in a press release:
“There remains a long road ahead but this validates our position that the suit merits review by the court. . .We had sincerely hoped to negotiate Colin’s return to his job but short of any further dialogue with the Archdiocese, we will continue to pursue remedy through the courts which we know could be a lengthy process.”
The Archdiocese rebuffed mediation efforts last fall, though Collette did meet with former Cardinal Francis George shortly after the firing. Collette sued the Archdiocese and the parish earlier this year for violating federal, state, and local non-discrimination protections. This latest ruling follows an earlier finding by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that there is sufficient possibility of discrimination for a lawsuit.
Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music director, a position he had held for seventeen years, when he publicly announced his engagement to another man. His lawsuit seeks Collette’s reinstatement as music director, along with back pay and damages.
This firing was traumatic for the Holy Family Catholic Community. 700 parishioners at a town hall conversation about the incident welcomed Collette with a standing ovation, and one parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”
This firing also raises questions for Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. Last December, he said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, offered a more pastoral voice during the Synod on the Family and told Bondings 2.0 that process would have benefited from hearing lesbian and gay people share their experiences. Yet, Collette and another fired gay church worker in Chicago, Sandor Demkovich, have open discrimination complaints which the Archdiocese is adamantly defending.
Though more than 60 church workers since 2008 have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes, there have been only a few legal victories. A teacher fired from a Catholic school in Italy won her lawsuit in that country. And Matthew Barrett settled with the Catholic school which had rescinded a job offer after finding out he was a married gay man. Colleen Simon reached an out of court settlement with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph after being fired from her parish social justice job. Flint Dollar also reached a settlement with the Macon, Georgia, Catholic high school that fired him as band director. Marla Krolikowski also reached a settlement in her suit against a New York City Catholic high school which fired her when she transitioned genders.
Whether Colin Collette will join this small, but growing list is uncertain. But Archbishop Cupich could ensure justice by ending the Archdiocesan defense efforts, apologizing to Collette, and enacting reconciliation efforts to heal the wound of anti-LGBT discrimination in the church.
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