Catholic school settles with band director fired over gay marriage
by Daniel James Devine
Posted 8/12/15, 04:45 pm
A Catholic college preparatory school in Macon, Ga., has settled out of court with a music teacher who said he was fired for marrying his homosexual partner—the latest settlement in a series of disputes between gay employees and Catholic schools across the country.
The former band director, Flint Dollar, filed a lawsuit against Mount de Sales Academy in June, claiming the school discriminated against him because he did not abide by “traditional gender stereotypes.” His lawsuit came on the heels of a determination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the Catholic school had likely fired Dollar because of his sexual orientation.
Dollar had sought compensation from the school for emotional pain and suffering, back pay, and attorney’s fees.
On Wednesday, David Held, the school’s president, said the terms of the settlement did not allow him to divulge details about the out-of-court deal.
“The only thing I can say is it was settled to the mutual satisfaction of both parties,” he told me, adding that the paperwork was finalized late last week.
Established in 1876, Mount de Sales enrolls about 600 students in grades six through 12 at its campus in central Georgia.
According to The Telegraph, Dollar claimed he had disclosed to school officials that he was living with a homosexual partner when they hired him in 2011 to teach piano classes and instrumental and choral music. He also claimed he later told faculty he planned to marry his partner in July 2014.
Dollar said he signed a contract on May 1, 2014, to teach during the 2014-2015 school year, but that Held called him into his office May 21 and fired him, citing Dollar’s upcoming same-sex marriage.
In a letter last year, the school said it fired Dollar not because he was gay but because homosexual marriage conflicted with Catholic teaching.
The school’s employee handbook does not require teachers to be Catholic or hold to Catholic doctrine on marriage, according to The Telegraph. The handbook states Mount de Sales is an equal opportunity employer that seeks to abide by laws prohibiting various kinds of discrimination.
Dollar has since taken a job as an organist and music director at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lewiston, N.Y.
Mount de Sales is one of several Catholic schools facing pressure from gay employees and teachers.
“It seems like almost once a month now there’s a new lawsuit of some Catholic schoolteacher who’s let go,” said Jeremiah Galus, a litigation staff council at Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that has defended Christian nonprofits accused of discrimination.
In Massachusetts, a man married to another man is suing a Catholic girls’ prep school, Fontbonne Academy, for rescinding a job offer for food services director after he listed his “husband” as an emergency contact. His case is still pending.
And in Philadelphia, Margie Winters, former director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy, claims she was fired in June after a parent complained about her eight-year marriage to another woman.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said he supported the school’s decision not to renew Winters’ contract, adding Catholic schools are responsible for “teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief.”
Winters’ spouse, Andrea Vettori, has written a letter to Pope Francis appealing against “injustices” she says have been committed against “gay and lesbian members of the Church throughout the United States and the world.” Winters hopes to take her case to the pope when he visits Philadelphia in September.
Legal experts say religious nonprofits such as Christian schools should maintain consistent employment policies that are clearly connected with the organization’s religious purpose. Having a clear, written policy may reduce the risk that a nonprofit will face a discrimination claim on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In a landmark 2012 case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled religious organizations have broad liberty to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government.
But courts haven’t decided whether the liberty offered by the “ministerial exception” should apply to employees at religious schools who do not spend time providing specifically religious instruction.
“There’s this fuzzy area of, what about janitors?” said David Nammo, executive director of the Christian Legal Society. “That has yet to be determined. And none of this has been litigated on the gay rights issue.”
Following the Supreme Court’s June decision declaring homosexual marriage a constitutional right, fired employees of religious organizations may present creative legal arguments to courts, Galus said: “Culture has shifted, and the legal landscape has changed.”
One line of argument employees may use is that their dismissal was wrong on the grounds of “public policy,” said Galus. “The public policy meaning, ‘We [as a society] want to encourage these types of relationships.’”