Fired Church Worker Reaches Settlement with Montana Diocese; Other Employment Updates

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Shaela Evenson

Fired Teacher Settles Lawsuit in Montana

Fired teacher Shaela Evenson settled her lawsuit against the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and Butte Central Catholic Schools  just weeks before the case went to trial. The parties have reached a private agreement.

Evenson, a lesbian woman who was fired in 2014 for becoming pregnant outside of marriage (although she is in a committed relationship with a woman), was suing for pregnancy and sex discrimination, as well as breach of contract. A trial was scheduled to begin in April, but will be avoided if a judge approves the settlement, reported Crux. Evenson’s lawyer did not comment, but Butte Central Catholic Schools Superintendent Tim Uhl said Bishop George Leo Thomas had instructed him to end the incident “because there has been a lot of hurt and harm.” Uhl acknowledged the intense pain this firing caused to Evenson specifically and to the Butte Central community.

To find out more about settled and pending legal cases involving church workers who lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes, click here.

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Colin Collette

Terminated Music Director Files Lawsuit in Chicago

Fired church worker Colin Collette has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago and Holy Family Catholic Church, Inverness, reported the Cook County Record.

Collette was terminated in 2014 after seventeen years as the parish’s music director when he announced an engagement to his male partner on Facebook. Fifteen months after filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Collette received permission from the federal agency to proceed with this lawsuit. Collette’s suit claims the Archdiocese and parish violated federal, state, and county civil rights protections. He is seeking to return to his job and  to receive lost pay and monetary damages.

Teacher Contracts Flare in Indiana

The next round of church worker firings may happen in Indiana. Educators in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are expressing their concerns about new mission documents released ahead of new teaching contracts to be signed in April.

“Jane Doe,” pseudonym for a teacher interviewed, spoke to WNDU 16 about a troubling secondary document “read aloud point by point” during a staff meeting. Titled “Mission of Our Catholic Schools and the Importance of Authentic Witness of School Employees,” the seven-page text features sixteen points related to mission including some expectations for employee’s behavior beyond school walls. Describing church workers as “privileged participants in this ministry,” the document states:

“Respecting and upholding this teaching in their words and behavior, Catholic school educators are not to publicly promote, condone, or support so-called ‘same-sex marriages’, adultery, or other offenses against the truth and dignity of marriage. . .”

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“Jane Doe,” as she appeared in the television interview

Doe said church officials explained that support includes acts like displaying a same-gender couple’s photograph or attending a same-gender wedding. Similar bans are included against abortion, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, and surrogate parenthood. Employees are also expected to support the bishop.

The diocese denied the new document is a change, saying it communicates “longstanding expectations,” but a number of employees believe this move is an inappropriate intrusion into their lives. Doe said church workers were made to understand they would be signing onto this mission document if they signed the new contract, although the text of the mission document is not included in the contract text. Doe explained:

” ‘What I do with my private life should be between me and my family. . .the Church is something that I go to, to look for faith. . .So telling me who I can and can’t be social with, basically with same sex marriage, even within my family or friends, it’s not right. . .

” ‘It hurts. . .We all carry ourselves in a professional manner and as Catholics—everybody sins in the world—no one is perfect out there. I don’t know how you could find one person who could follow that entire doctrine and have enough people to employ in one school, let alone 10, 15 schools.’ “

Doe said she would not sign the new mission document even if it risked her job, and she said many colleagues were weighing their options because they disagree sharply with the document’s intrusive language. Similar new changes in other dioceses have caused many teachers in Catholic schools to lose their jobs in the last couple years. Contractual shifts have been reported in at least six dioceses.  Before releasing the new contracts in April, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend should be cautious about whether a demand for explicit assent to micro-managed morality is worth losing highly committed and qualified church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these stories, 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 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

One Response to Fired Church Worker Reaches Settlement with Montana Diocese; Other Employment Updates

  1. Larry says:

    When you have to force your employees to alter their personal lives and freedom of expression OUTSIDE of the workplace [prohibiting the display of a same-gender couple’s photograph??!!??] or forfeit their jobs then the Church’s “morality” is bankrupt. If you can’t persuade someone of the correctness of your position without force then your position is wrong. When a religion won’t abide any thing but group-think, it is a cult.

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