A social worker in Indianapolis who identifies as straight claims she lost her job at a local Catholic high school after she publicly expressed support for two lesbian colleagues who were fired because they were married to other women.
Kelley Fisher worked as a social worker at Roncalli High School for 15 years, and was an employee of Catholic Charities. Fisher has filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, claiming she was the victim of retaliation.
Fisher claims she was fired for supporting former Roncalli High guidance counselors Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey, who were both dismissed after administrators discovered they were married to other women.
Both women have since filed lawsuits alleging they were fired because of anti-gay discrimination and were unfairly subjected to a “hostile work environment.”
In two Facebook posts, Fisher showed support for her colleagues and called on the archdiocese to change the language of employee contracts that allow for the firing of employees who violate church teachings.
One of the posts included a portion of a letter she’d previously sent to archdiocese officials in August 2018 in support of allowing Fitzgerald to keep her job, reports the Indianapolis Star.
“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher told the Star about her decision to write the post.
Fisher said that her bosses at Catholic Charities called her into a meeting with Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach, who asked her if she could adhere to Catholic teachings. Fisher said she’d spoken to students on both sides of the archdiocese’s position on employees in same-sex marriages, which is a divisive issue within the Catholic community, and was trying not to judge or influence the students’ position.
“Our job is, as a counselor or social worker, that we don’t bring our values or judgment into a session,” Fisher said. “And I feel very strongly about that.”
When students formed Shelly’s Voice, a nonprofit created in response to Fitzgerald’s suspension and eventual firing, Fisher and at least one other employee thought they should attend the nonprofit’s kickoff event in order to support their students. Several employees eventually got permission from the school to attend the event, but had to agree not to speak to the media.
Four months after meeting with Weisenbach, Fisher was placed on a “performance improvement plan” by Catholic Charities, even though she’d previously never received anything but positive performance reviews.
She claims that she was told she was placed on the plan because she’d “engaged in conduct that is adversarial to the school, i.e. public postings about the guidance department’s dysfunction,” and that her advocacy on behalf of Fitzgerald and Starkey was “disruptive” to her department.
Fisher also claims the archdiocese was nervous that she could potentially testify as a witness about how Fitzgerald and Starkey were treated on the job. She was ultimately fired in May, with her email being cited as one of the reasons for her termination.
The archdiocese has maintained it has a constitutional right to “hire leaders who support [Catholic] school’s religious mission.”
“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “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.”
Fisher said she had no intention of leaving Roncalli, and would have preferred to stay in order to ensure her students have a “safe place.” But she’s speaking out because it’s important to highlight that it’s not just LGBTQ people who are being penalized by the archdiocese.
“If you publicly support, you know, [being] against discrimination… you too, can be a victim of losing your job,” she said.
Fisher is currently awaiting a decision from the EEOC about whether she has the right to sue for discrimination. If the commission decides she can sue, she’ll have 90 days to file a lawsuit, which would be the fourth lodged against the archdiocese.
In addition to Fitzgerald’s and Starkey’s lawsuits, a third teacher, Joshua Payne-Elliott, a social studies and world language teacher fired from his job at Cathedral High School, is also suing the archdiocese.
His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher a Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, was also targeted by the archdiocese for termination, but Brebeuf refused to fire him. In response, the archdiocese revoked the school’s Catholic status and said it could no longer claim to be affiliated with the church.
That decision has since been stalled while the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome conducts an inquiry into the dispute.