Lesbian Fired by Catholic Food Pantry Files Suit

Colleen Simon says church officials hired her under false pretenses, knowing she was a lesbian and telling her it would not be a problem.

BY Trudy Ring

July 20 2014 5:09 AM ET

Colleen Simon

A woman fired by a Catholic-run food pantry in Kansas City, Mo., because she is a lesbian, has filed suit against the Kansas City-St. Joseph Roman Catholic diocese and its bishop.

Colleen Simon says that when she was hired last year to run the food pantry at St. Francis Xavier Church, with the title of director of social ministries, she told informed priests that she was a lesbian and they told her it would be no problem. But she was fired in May, shortly after the publication of a local news article that mentioned her marriage to a woman. She alleges that Bishop Robert J. Finn ordered her firing, The Kansas City Star reports.

“Defendant Most Rev. Robert J. Finn … aided, abetted, incited and compelled the actions of the diocese, and participated in the ordering of her termination,” the suit, filed Thursday, reads in part. Simon seeks “unpaid wages and fringe benefits, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney fees,” the Star reports.

“While I feel betrayed by the unjust action of the diocese, it is still my greatest desire to return to my position and to serve the parishioners and those at the margins in the surrounding community,” Simon said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. She said she believes the church hired her under false pretenses; if priests had told her that her sexual orientation would be an issue, she would not have taken the job. She added that as a cancer survivor, she is in grave need of health insurance.

The diocese declined comment on the specifis of the suit, but issued a statement saying, “As needed, we will defend our constitutional freedom to practice our faith and uphold the integrity of our mission and public witness.”

Simon’s case, reports ThinkProgress, “draws attention to the legal fuzziness surrounding the right of faith institutions to pick and choose who they hire. Religious groups retain the ability to discriminate in some instances because of the so-called ‘ministerial exception,’ a legal precedent allowing faith-based entities to skirt anti-discrimination laws when filling ministerial positions.” Yet Simon, brought up Catholic, is now a Lutheran, so she would hardly qualify for a Catholic ministerial position, ThinkProgress points out. The church seems to be “implying that being anti-gay is somehow more theologically important to being Catholic than religious debates that date back to the Protestant Reformation,” the blog notes.

The issue of allowing religiously affiliated employers to discriminate in jobs that do not involve religious duties has been much discussed as President Obama prepares to issue an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination order covering federal contractors. Observers now expect that the order, to be issued Monday, will not include such a broad religious exemption.

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