Metro Weekly

Third LGBTQ Catholic school teacher sues Indianapolis Archdiocese for anti-gay discrimination

Archdiocese claims it has a right to hire employees who will adhere to Catholic doctrine

Roncalli High School — Photo: Facebook

A guidance counselor who was fired from a Catholic high school because she is married to another women has become the third LGBTQ person to sue the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for discrimination.

Shelly Fitzgerald, who was suspended from Roncalli High School last August, alleges that she was discriminated against, retaliated against, and subjected a hostile work environment because of her sex and her sexual orientation.

She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages due to lost back pay, front pay, loss of future earning capacity, loss of employer-provided benefits, and emotional distress.

The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese interfered with contractual and business relationships between Fitzgerald and Roncalli High School.

Fitzgerald, a Roncalli alumna who had been teaching at the school for 15 years, has been in a relationship with her wife, Victoria, for 23 years. The couple has a 13-year-old daughter whom they adopted from Guatemala as a baby.

In 2014, after Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down, Fitzgerald and her wife were legally married. 

But things changed after an anonymous person sent a copy of Fitzgerald’s marriage license to the archdiocese, which had begun requiring Catholic schools to institute “morality clauses” that call for employees to live in according with church doctrine a few years ago, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Upon receiving information of her marriage to a woman, administrators confronted Fitzgerald and gave her three choices: she could dissolve her marriage, resign, or “keep quiet” until her contract expired at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

After she refused all three options, she was placed on administrative leave and banned from campus for the remainder of the school year, before being officially terminated in the late spring of 2019.

The co-director of Roncalli’s guidace department, Lynn Starkey, filed an EEOC complaint over how the school had treated Fitzgerald, only to then be subject to discrimination for her own involvement in a same-sex marriage.

She previously filed her own lawsuit against the school and the archdiocese in August.

Fitzgerald’s lawsuit alleges that she was treated differently than heterosexual employees who violate Catholic Church teachings, and thus, their employers’ morality clauses, in other ways.

The lawsuit also alleges that the archdiocese retaliated against Fitzgerald’s father, a longtime volunteer at the school, because he had appeared on the news at a rally in support of his daughter holding a sign reading: “Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.”

For its part, the archdiocese claims it has a constitutional right, under the First Amendment to “hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.”

“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation,” the archdiocese said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

In response to her firing, some of Fitzgerald’s students formed a nonprofit organization, Shelly’s Voice Advocacy Group, to advocate for LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance in school community.

The group has held rallies, mounted letter-writing campaigns, and spoken to media about their disapproval of Fitzgerald’s firing, and recently launched a campaign to help Fitzgerald raise money for her legal fees.

Fitzgerald is one of several gay or lesbian teachers fired by the Indianapolis Archdiocese in the past year. After she and Starkey were fired from their jobs, Joshua Payne-Elliott, a world language and social studies teacher, was fired from his job at Cathedral High School.

Payne-Elliott settled with the school, but is suing the archdiocese for discrimination. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.

The archdiocese ordered Brebeuf to fire Layton Payne-Elliott, but the school refused, prompting the archdiocese to revoke the school’s status as a “Catholic” institution.

Brebeuf appealed the decision, prompting the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome to suspend the archdiocese’s decision while it looks into the particulars of the situation.

Read more:

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GOP activist slams Pete Buttigieg: “We need to make homosexuality unthinkable again”

Virginia Beach human rights commissioner calls homosexuality an “abomination” and a “mental illness”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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