Catholic School Discriminated Against Gay Employee, Says Judge

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Matthew Barrett, right, and his husband, Ed Suplee

In a landmark decision, a Massachusetts court ruled that a Catholic school discriminated against a gay employee when it rescinded his employment contract because of his same-sex marriage.

In 2013, Matthew Barrett had been offered employment as the food services director at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts. But the job offer was taken back after Barrett listed his husband, Ed Suplee, as his emergency contact.

Judge Douglas H. Wilkins of Norfolk Superior Court said the school’s action violated Massachusetts’s non-discrimination protections and wrote, in a decision reported by The Boston Globe:

“Fontbonne’s discrimination ‘because of’ Barrett’s same-sex marriage is undisputed and, as shown above, amounts to discriminatory intent as a matter of law. . .It is clear that, because he is male, he suffered gender discrimination when he was denied employment for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.”

Ben Klein of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented Barrett, said “you can’t have equality if you can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday.” This ruling is the first of its kind barring anti-gay discrimination at religious institution, said Klein.

Fontbonne Academy had sought a religious exemption in the case, but Judge Wilkins denied such claims. They would apply only if the school limited “membership, enrollment, or participation” to Catholics, but Fontbonne allows students of all or no faith, and it requires only administrators and theology faculty be Catholic. The Globe further explained:

“Wilkins also ruled that hiring Barrett as a food services director would not interfere with the school’s ability to promote the message of the Catholic church because the job does not have any teaching or administrative responsibilities.”

Barrett now awaits a hearing to determine damages, which would include lost wages and other damages, according to his lawyer.

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, and 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 that it is a situation “needs to be rectified” in 2014. 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.

You can take action to stop the firings! Consider getting an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 thoughts on “Catholic School Discriminated Against Gay Employee, Says Judge

  1. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf December 18, 2015 / 10:49 am

    Sometimes, I become frustrated with the how slow progress is made in protecting the rights of LGBT people. It took me a long time (I am a slow learner) but I have begun to understand my grandfather’s admonition: “la paciencia es una virtud” (patience is a virtue).

    A number of our Bishops and priests are married gay or lesbian and consecrated or ordained a good number off them.

  2. Tom Gaudet December 21, 2015 / 10:39 am

    I am elated to hear of the outcome of this case. But I am left wondering, where are the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ’s) here in their commitment to “love of neighbor without distinction?” Fontbonne Academy is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Yet they have been curiously silent regarding this case, while they tout their commitment to social justice and service to the “dear neighbor.” It seems they definitely make a distinction when deciding who the dear neighbor actually is: anyone except a LGBT person who exercises his/her legal rights. A couple of years ago, much of the Catholic world supported the LCWR sisters, who were being unfairly persecuted by the Church hierarchy. Many of those supporters were LGBT people, and many of those were former students of these sisters. Are the sisters unwilling to return the favor and support those others of us who continue to be persecuted by Church hierarchy ourselves? One way love? or No courage to be consistent in application of the Gospel, just because it stirs up the hierarchy? I thought these women were smarter than that.

    Having been educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston for much of my elementary and high school years, as well as having graduated from a CSJ college, I am appalled by their silence. They are either serious about their social justice work or not. They could have prevented this man from losing his job, but they chose not to. Shame on them. Now that I am legally married to my partner of 26 years, I wonder if they want my degree back? I would be happy to send the ashes after I have a ceremonial bon fire in my backyard.

  3. Fredrikka Maxwell December 22, 2015 / 1:21 am

    Here’s my question, though: How can the judge  enforce  this ruling without  coming across against the church’s anti-same sex marriage  which some people think is part of the Catholic belief system? I would otherwise heartily applud this judge’s ruling. Because it does seem like the institution did come out in discrimination. Hugs, Fredrikka Joy Maxwell

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