A fired church worker has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the church institution which fired him, and its affiliated diocese.
John M. Murphy filed the federal lawsuit earlier this month against the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, and against the St. Francis Home, a facility serving low-income elderly people, which Murphy had been hired to direct. The Richmond Times-Dispatch detailed the lawsuit’s contents:
“[Murphy says that] just eight days into his job as executive director of the St. Francis Home in Richmond, two diocese officials visited his office — Chief Financial Officer Michael McGee and Human Resources Officer Dorothy Mahanes.
“Murphy alleges that on the day McGee and Mahanes visited his office, the pair said they had learned he was gay, a fact he confirmed.
“According to the lawsuit, McGee then told him ‘same-sex marriage is antithetical to Roman Catholic church doctrine and this makes you unfit and ineligible to be executive director of St. Francis Home. We are here to advise you that your employment is terminated effective today.’ “
According to the suit, Murphy’s sexual orientation was discussed only after he had been offered the job, the lawsuit revealed. The charges say he mentioned his husband, Jerry Carter, to Board President Tina Neal, who had invited Murphy to a fundraiser, and that Neal said his same-gender marriage would not be a problem because, “This is 2015.” The Times-Dispatch noted further:
“According to the lawsuit, after his firing Neal said she and the board members who make up the executive committee had met with Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo the previous day. The bishop, the suit alleges, ‘insisted that the executive committee terminate plaintiff on the grounds of same-sex marriage.’ “
Murphy was fired in April 2015 after only eight days into his new position directing the lay-administered St. Francis Home. Diocesan intervention seems to have been the cause, as Board members were quite unhappy with the decision. One member even resigned. Murphy has compared the incident to being “kicked in the stomach.”
LGBT organizations and Catholics have rallied behind Murphy, including the Center for American Progress which produced a video about the case. In a statement, New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick said, in part:
“Conforming to Catholic sexual morality should not play a part in employment decisions. Otherwise, Catholic institutions should be firing thousands of heterosexual individuals for their sexual sins. Judgments about hiring and firing need to be based on characteristics such as competence, honesty, and responsibility.”
The lawsuit is proceeding now after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to rule within 180 days on Murphy’s discrimination complaint. Murphy, who has been emotionally distressed and unemployed since the firing, is seeking $750,000 in damages plus legal fees.
Murphy’s firing and pursuit of justice are experiences shared in recent years by too many LGBT church workers. Most recently, a Catholic high school in New Jersey fired a lesbian educator after her same-gender marriage became known to administrators. Thousands of alumni and community members have signed an open letter protesting this decision.
Though limited, there have been legal advances for fired church workers. Colin Collette’s discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago was allowed to proceed earlier this summer, and Matthew Barrett reached an undisclosed settlement in May with the Catholic high school that fired him. Colleen Simon also reached a settlement with the Diocese of Kansas City. Hopefully, John Murphy will obtain justice in his case and add to this growing list of victories.
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 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry