Fired Church Worker Settles with Catholic School, Sues Archdiocese for Discrimination

Joshua Payne-Elliott

A gay church worker has settled with the Catholic school which fired him over his same-gender marriage, but the worker is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis which directed the school that he be fired. News also broke that the church worker is husband to a gay church worker which a nearby Catholic school refused to fire.

Joshua Payne-Elliott, who had not released his name to this point, is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on the grounds it discriminated against him by interfering with his teaching contract. Payne-Elliott was fired by Cathedral High School in Indianapolis last month because he was in a same-gender marriage, a termination requested by the Archdiocese. Crux reported on the lawsuit and new details about the firing:

“Payne-Elliott taught at Cathedral High School for 13 years and Cathedral renewed his annual teaching contract on May 21, his attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, said in a news release. But on June 23, Cathedral’s president told him he was being fired on the orders of the archdiocese.

“Payne-Elliott also has filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the archdiocese discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination, the news release said.

“‘We intend to hold the Archdiocese accountable for violations of state and federal law,’ DeLaney said.”

As for Cathedral High, DeLaney announced that Payne-Elliott had entered a settlement whereby the school thanked him and promised to help him find a new job. The fired teacher said he was grateful for his time there, and he did not intend to harm the school.

News also broke that Payne-Elliott was married to another church worker whose employment dispute made recent headlines. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is employed at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. Though the archdiocese requested that Brebeuf fire Layton, the Jesuits refused to do so. resulting in  Archbishop Charles Thompson removintg the school’s designation as “Catholic.”

The Archdiocese is defending the firing of Joshua Payne-Elliott on the grounds that all employees in Catholic schools are deemed ministers expected to uphold church teaching. The so-called “ministerial exemption” in U.S. law allows religious institutions to hire and fire people deemed ministers at will, and they are not subject to non-discrimination protections.

This is the fourth EEOC filing by an LGBTQ church worker against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey both filed complaints against the archdiocese and Roncalli High School after losing their jobs allegedly because of their same-gender legal partnerships. Fitzgerald filed an additional complaint after her father, Pat, was barred from volunteering on senior retreats from the high school. These complaints are the first step towards lawsuits.

An analysis article by the Indianapolis Star examined why the archdiocese has become ground zero for LGBTQ-related employment disputes, noting that five employees or volunteers in the last year alone have lost their positions. Gina Fleming, the archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said other employment issues have been raised previously. The case of a teacher who posted online about being divorced and remarried in support of Payne-Elliott is now being reviewed.

In the last decade, more than 80 church workers have gone public about losing their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes (you can find a full listing of these incidents here). Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said he was aware of many more that remained private. DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke called the targeting of LGBTQ church workers “a sinister, coordinated campaign of violence.”

In an interview with Forbes magazine, DeBernardo commented:

 “The archdiocese is pushing a strategy that is self-defeating. They’re trying to protect orthodoxy, but in the meantime are forcing more and more people away from the Church.”

But the harm caused to these church workers and the communities they serve, not to mention Catholics generally who grieve such discrimination, is entirely preventable. Joshua Payne-Elliott, Shelly Fitzgerald, Lynn Starkey, and dozens more people should be employed at their respective schools right now. Archbishop Thompson’s discriminatory and invasive pursuit against church workers must stop.

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page. For New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBTQ issues here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 12, 2019

1 reply
  1. Tyrone Deere
    Tyrone Deere says:

    I wonder how many heterosexual teaching couples are in irregular married situations, or just living together. Discrimination here.


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