A third employee at an Indianapolis Catholic high school has claimed she was fired because of LGBTQ issues, just as the high school faces a new discrimination lawsuit from another terminated employee.
Kelly Fisher, a school social worker, has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that claims Roncalli High School administrators fired her earlier this year for supporting two co-workers terminated over their same-gender marriages. Those co-workers are Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey. IndyStar reported:
“Fisher, who is not a member of the LGBTQ community, said she made two public Facebook posts supporting the women and advocating for a change in contract language that the archdiocese has argued prohibits the employment of people who violate church teachings, which includes entering into a same-sex marriage.
“One of those posts was a copy of a letter she’d written and sent to leadership within the archdiocese and Roncalli about her support for Fitzgerald in the immediate aftermath of Fitzgerald’s suspension last August. In that letter, Fisher said she wrote that she wanted to be a ‘voice for social justice’ and asked for a change in the contract.
” ‘As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,’ Fisher said in a recent interview with IndyStar.”
Fisher met with Principal Chuck Weisenbach who said concerns had been raised about the school social worker’s ability to abide by church teaching when dealing with LGBTQ students. Fisher responded that being in social work requires professionals to be disinterested parties who “don’t bring our values or judgment into a session.” She also alleges that Archbishop Charles Thompson warned her against supporting her fired co-workers. IndyStar’s report continued:
“Four months later, Fisher was placed on a ‘performance improvement plan.’ She said she’s never had anything other than positive performance reviews previously. . .
“Fisher’s contract was with Catholic Charities and not the school – unlike other school employees. Roncalli renewed its contract with Catholic Charities, but not Fisher’s placement.
“She was told in April that “returning to Roncalli next year is not going to be an option,” according to the EEOC filing. Fisher, who says she’d usually know where she’d be placed in late winter or early spring, then sought a placement at a different school through Catholic Charities but that was eventually denied and she was fired in late May.
“Fisher said she was told she was fired because of an email she sent to several coworkers in early May letting them know she wasn’t being brought back to Roncalli because of her support of Fitzgerald and Starkey.”
According to IndyStar, Fisher is not the only Roncalli employee who claims the administration has tried to silence dissent. Three employees who remained anonymous said that while there is no written policy, they believed they would risk their jobs if they publicly supported Fitzgerald and Starkey:
“Fisher and all three other employees allege they were told they needed to get permission from a school official before attending the kickoff event for Shelly’s Voice, a nonprofit started by several Roncalli students in the wake of Fitzgerald’s suspension.
“Fisher and at least one other employee said they felt it was important to attend and support their students, the same way they did at sporting events and musical performances. Several employees did get permission to attend, they said, so long as they didn’t appear in media coverage of the event.”
A handful of employees left their positions at the end of last school year due to the allegedly hostile environment, while others have altered their curricula and social lives to tamp down on any LGBTQ connections.
In related news, fired guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald filed a discrimination lawsuit against Roncalli and the Archdiocese. IndyStar reported:
“Filed in federal court Monday, the lawsuit alleges that Fitzgerald was discriminated against, the victim of retaliation and subject to a hostile work environment because of sex – hers and/or her spouse’s – and because of her sexual orientation. Fitzgerald is seeking unspecified damages due to lost back pay, lost front pay, loss of future earning capacity, lost employer provided benefits and emotional distress.
“The suit also alleges that the archdiocese interfered with contractual and business relationships between Fitzgerald and Roncalli . . .
“The lawsuit also alleges that the archdiocese and Roncalli retaliated against Fitzgerald’s father, who had been a longtime volunteer at the school. He was barred from serving at the school’s Senior Retreat, where he had spoken for the last 26 years, because he’d appeared on the news at a rally for his daughter holding a sign that read, ‘Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.’ “
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis, through the right wing group Becket (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), is defending the firings at Roncalli. The Archdiocese claims it has a right to “hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission,” and that leaders who “reject core aspects of the Catholic faith” undermine the school’s mission. It also denied that any employees have been told they could not attend “outside events or civil weddings of any kind” and that expectations were clearly outlined in the school handbook.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Thompson forced Cathedral High School to fire teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott over his same-gender marriage. Payne-Elliott is now suing the Archdiocese after settling with the school. The Trump administration has made known its support for the Archdiocese in the lawsuit.
When Indianapolis’ Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School refused to fire Payne-Elliott’s husband, Layton, the archbishop stripped the school of its Catholic designation and barred it from holding school wide Masses. The Vatican has suspended these sanctions while the Jesuits appeal Thompson’s decree, an “exceptional” act according to one canonist, but it is unclear which side will prevail when the Congregation for Catholic Education decides.
Sadly, it is not surprising that another Roncalli employee has claimed she was unjustly terminated. The time has come for other U.S. bishops and the Vatican to intervene against Archbishop Thompson who is deeply wounding more people and communities with each new unjust action.
The fired church employees in Indianapolis join the more than 80 church employees who have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related disputes in the last decade. The following resources are available to learn more about such disputes and how Catholics can take action against the church employee firings:
- For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Indianapolis employment disputes involving Roncalli High, Cathedral High School, and Brebeuf Jesuity Preparatory School, click here.
- 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 non-discrimination, church workers, and LGBTQ issues here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 25, 2019
Indianapolis Monthly, “Inside The Indy Catholic Schools LGBTQ Controversy“