Sunday, December 20, 2015

In What's Being Called a "First-of-its-Kind Decision," a Catholic School is Told It Can't Fire People for Being Gay

The following is a media release from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).

In a first-of-its-kind decision, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge has ruled that Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic girls’ high school, discriminated against Matthew Barrett on the basis of sexual orientation and sex when it rescinded its offer of the job of food services manager to him because he is married to another man. The court ruled that Fontbonne had clearly and directly violated the Massachusetts nondiscrimination law; was not exempt from the law; and had no constitutional defenses against its discriminatory conduct. The decision can be read here.

The case, Barrett v. Fontbonne Academy, brought by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), seeks to enforce the nondiscrimination laws that are vitally important to our civil society and to push back against attempts by religiously-affiliated institutions to expand their ability to free themselves from the obligations of the nondiscrimination laws.

“Religiously-affiliated organizations do not get a free pass to discriminate against gay and lesbian people,” said Bennett Klein, GLAD Senior Attorney. “When Fontbonne fired Matt from a job that has nothing to do with religion, and simply because he is married, they came down on the wrong side of the law.”

“I’m ecstatic,” said Barrett. “What happened to me was wrong, and I truly hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

In rejecting Fontbonne’s constitutional claims asserting rights of free exercise of religion and expressive association, Associate Justice Douglas H. Wilkins wrote, “The state has a compelling interest in prohibiting discrimination against historically disadvantaged people,” citing cases from the U.S. Supreme Court addressing race and sex discrimination. He continued, “That interest is rarely stronger than in the employment context...”

Barrett was born and raised in a Catholic family. He has worked in the food services industry for 20 years, and lives in Dorchester with his husband Ed Suplee.

The next step in the case will be a hearing on damages.

In addition to Klein, Barrett is represented by GLAD attorney Gary Buseck and GLAD’s founder, John Ward.

In reporting on this landmark decision for New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog, Bob Shine (left) offers the following incisive commentary.

This decision means justice for Matthew Barrett. It sets a legal precedent that Massachusetts religious institutions cannot wantonly discriminate against LGBT employees by using religious exemption definitions broadly. What it does not rectify are the thirteen public incidents in 2015 where LGBT and Ally church workers lost their jobs nor the more than 60 which have occurred since 2008. Because this was a state court decision, it may not be applicable to similar situations in other states.

Fontbonne Academy is in the Archdiocese of Boston, which is headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He is a close adviser to Pope Francis and the only American prelate to speak out against the firing of LGBT church workers, telling Bondings 2.0 in 2014 that it is a situation “needs to be rectified.” O’Malley should use the occasion of this ruling to implement LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies at all archdiocesan schools, parishes, and agencies. Policies could be modeled on those approved by Germany’s bishops earlier this year, or the policy adopted by St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon. Such a move would help make real the cardinal’s desire to ending these firings and be a model for others in the U.S. Church to follow.

Related Off-site Links:
Catholic School Discriminated Against Gay Employee, Says Judge – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, December 18, 2015).
Court To Catholic School: No, You Can’t Fire People Because They Are Gay – Zack Ford (Think Progress, December 17, 2015).
Catholic School Loses Gay Bias Case – Laura Crimaldi (The Boston Globe, December 17, 2015).
More Colleges Seek Exemption from LGBT Anti-bias Rules, Rights Group Says – Fiona Ortiz (Reuters, December 19, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on the Firing of Kristen Ostendorf
Quote of the Day – September 2, 2013
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality

Opening image: Matthew Barrett, left, and his husband, Ed Suplee.

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