For the second time, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the employment discrimination suit of a lesbian teacher fired from a Catholic school can go forward, despite motions by the school and archdiocese attorneys to get it dismissed. But because the judge’s decision was based on a very specific legal technicality, the possibility that the teacher will be victorious in the case still remains highly uncertain.
Kate Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach at Paramus Catholic H.S., in the Archdiocese of Newark, is suing because she was fired from her job when administrators learned that she was married to a woman.
Judge Lisa Perez Friscia denied the request by the school and archdiocese, the defendants, to reconsider her August 22nd decision to dismiss the case, saying that no new facts were presented by the institutions’ lawyers.
According to NorthJersey.com:
“Friscia ruled in August that the case should go to the discovery phase, which would end Sept. 3, 2017.
“ ‘Only after discovery is complete, can the court review each claim to determine whether the religious organization exception, grounded in the First Amendment applies,’ Friscia wrote.”
So, the defendants’ request for a religious exemption from New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD) may yet be allowed to proceed. The judge’s ruling stated only that the religious exemption could not apply at this stage of the case.
According to the news article:
“Friscia ruled that the defendants ‘have not established, at this early juncture,’ that the school can apply religious tenets to employees not engaged in ministerial duties and she said that by merely claiming the religious exemption the school is not necessarily entitled to it.”
It looks like the case is going to turn on the court’s understanding of the definition of a minister and ministerial work. According to a news report, the attorneys for the school and archdiocese point out:
“Drumgoole signed an acknowledgement that she received the Archdiocese’s ‘Policies on Professional and Ministerial Conduct’ and a ‘Code of Ethics.’ The school’s faculty handbook also says that all teachers must comply with the code of ministerial conduct policies. Her collective bargaining agreement allows for tenured teachers to be terminated for ‘violating accepted standards of catholic morality as to cause public scandal,’ according to the written ruling this week.”
However, the other side sees the situation differently:
“Drumgoole’s attorneys, Eric Kleiner and Lawrence Kleiner, have argued that Drumgoole’s job did not include ministerial duties and that the school uses some of the NJLAD in its faculty handbook, making it liable to all of the laws against discrimination.”
Drumgoole also claimed in her suit that she thinks her firing may be related to her raising charges against two school employees in the recent past:
“Drumgoole, in her certification, said she also believes her firing may have been retaliatory. Drumgoole had alerted school officials to an incident involving two Paramus Catholic employees who allegedly had sex with students during a school trip to Germany.
“In late 2011, two male former employees of the high school were indicted on charges of having sex with at least three female students during a school trip to Germany.
“The state Supreme Court in March 2015 threw out all the overseas sex charges involving Artur Sopel, the school’s vice president of operations at the time of the trip, and Michael Sumulikoski, a substitute teacher. The court ruled local prosecutors had no jurisdiction to charge the two, who were chaperones for the February 2011 school trip.”
Drumgoole’s case has already sparked a number of controversies in the local church. Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for the teacher. The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. their jobs for a while. Over 3000 school community members have signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 25, 2016