A fired church worker has filed a lawsuit against the Catholic school and diocese that allegedly terminated him over his same-gender marriage.
According to Todd Simons, administrators at Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in Queens, New York, fired him in 2018 after becoming aware he was in a same-gender marriage. The New York Post reported:
“After less than two months, [Simons] decided to check out the cost of employer-provided health insurance, and entered his husband’s name into an online form, Simons claims.
“Even though he didn’t complete the application or submit the form, just a week later he was hauled into a meeting with Principal Kevin Coyne and a parish priest, Rev. Richard Conlon.
“They asked if Simons was married to a man, with the priest questioning if the teacher was ‘legally married on paper,’ according to court papers.
“When Simons said yes, he was asked to leave for 30 minutes. He was then called back in and fired, he claims in his Brooklyn Federal Court filing against the school and the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
Simons claims that Coyne was upset with having to fire the teacher because the principal “admired Simons’ teaching skills,” describing Simons as a “wonderful part of the staff,” “great with the kids,” and “good role model.” The Post added:
“When [Simons] told [Coyne and Conlon] he had intended to opt out of spousal coverage, Coyne allegedly told Simons, ‘I so wish you had.’
“The principal then told Simons to lie to his students about why he was leaving the school — but the devastated teacher simply exited the building on the spot, too embarrassed to face his pupils or collect his belongings, Simons claimed.”
Since his firing, Simons has experienced stress and guilt from losing his job and a fear of being outed to prospective employers, as he will have to disclose that he was fired for being a married gay man.
Simons joins a growing number of employees affected by the July 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that confirmed the ability of religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. Legal experts provided the following input on Simons’ lawsuit:
“Simons, who is seeking unspecified damages, has a right to work ‘free of discrimination because of his sexual orientation and whom he loves,’ said his lawyer, Allegra L. Fishel of the Gender Equality Law Center, who said federal and city civil rights law protected her client.”
“But a July 2020 Supreme Court decision gives religious schools wide latitude to fire employees who bare even the smallest amount of responsibility in teaching the faith, said lawyers with Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal group.”
“‘If part of your duties are teaching the faith,’ said attorney Greg Nevins, then schools have ‘carte blanche on the hiring and firing.’”
“‘It’s important that people know this is what they’re saying instead, that the laws Congress passes to provide protection for workers do not apply if it’s a religious school, and the person has even a small amount of religious function in their job. There are a lot of people who are at risk for a bad shock,’ added Lambda Legal Law and Police Director Jennifer Pizer.”
Cases like Simons’s surface important moral and legal questions about where the right of religious employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation ends and where the rights of employees to work free of fear begin. While the road to justice for Simons and those in situations like his may be a long one, there is hope in his courageous persistence to seek a legal decision that could have positive consequences for LGBTQ employees at religious schools who face similar challenges and fears.
–Barbara Anne Kozee, August 4, 2021