One of two guidance counselors at a Catholic high school who were fired last year after their superiors discovered they were in same-sex relationships is suing her former employer and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for discrimination.
Lynn Starkey, who worked at Roncalli High School for 39 years, filed suit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana claiming she was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment because of her sexual orientation.
The lawsuit also claims the archdiocese and Roncalli retaliated against her after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the lawsuit, Starkey claims that both the school and the archdiocese knew about her sexual orientation “for years” and never took action against her until last year, after another guidance counselor at Roncalli, Shelly Fitzgerald, was outed as a lesbian by an anonymous person who mailed a copy of her marriage certificate to the school and the archdiocese.
Following the incident, Fitzgerald was questioned by Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach about her 22-year-relationship with a woman and placed on paid administrative leave due to her sexual orientation.
School officials gave Fitzgerald three options: resign, have her marriage “dissolved,” or “wait it out and stay quiet for the rest of the year” knowing that her contract would not be renewed, reports Indianapolis-based ABC affiliate RTV6.
Following Fitzgerald’s dismissal, school officials then turned their fire on Starkey, questioning her about her own civil union. Starkey then claims she experiences a “hostile work environment” while being required to assume Fitzgerald’s work responsibilities in addition to her own. So she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November 2018.
In her EEOC complaint, Starkey alleged that she was being discriminated against based on her sex and sexual orientation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But after she filed the complaint, she claims school officials retaliated against her.
In March, Starkey was notified that her civil union was a “breach” of contract and that the school would not be renewing her contract for the 2019-2020 school year.
In her lawsuit, Starkey claims she suffered damages because of the actions of Roncalli and the archdiocese, “including but not limited to lost back pay, lost front pay, loss of future earning capacity, lost employer provided benefits and emotional distress damages.”
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has issued a response to Starkey’s lawsuit, saying she signed a contract as a condition of employment promising to “promote Catholic teaching, including the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage.” It claims that because of the leeway given to religious schools in discriminating against employees who do not adhere to Church doctrine, Starkey’s lawsuit should be dismissed.
“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation. To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action, both inside and outside the classroom,” the statement reads. “If a school’s leaders reject core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission. Because of that, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.”
The archdiocese also says it has a responsibility to the parents who pay tuition to have their children receive a Catholic education.
“Many families in our community have sacrificed so their children can attend schools where they will learn the Catholic faith. They rely on the Archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so,” the archdiocese concluded.
The archdiocese is currently mired in controversy not only over its firing of the Roncalli guidance counselors, but of another LGBTQ employee at Cathedral High School, which was threatened with loss of money and being stripped of its “Catholic” identity if the employee in question remained on the payroll.
The archdiocese also attracted significant controversy after it severed ties with Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School when it refused to fire a fourth LGBTQ employee who was in a same-sex marriage. As a result, Brebeuf lost its ability to market itself as an official “Catholic” high school affiliated with the archdiocese, and will have to look elsewhere for supplemental funding.