Judge: No Religious Excuse for Catholic School's Antigay Discrimination

Ed Suplee and Matthew Barrett
Ed Suplee and Matthew Barrett

A Catholic school in Massachusetts violated state antidiscrimination law when it rescinded a job offer to a man because of his same-sex marriage, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Matthew Barrett had been offered the job of food services director at Fontbonne Academy in Milton in 2013. When he filled out the paperwork required for new employees, he listed Ed Suplee, whom he had married the year before, as his emergency contact, and identified Suplee as his husband. School officials then said they could not hire him, as his marriage was inconsistent with the teachings of the church. Barrett then sued, with representation by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders of Boston.

Fontbonne administrators attempted to claim a religious exemption from Massachusetts law, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. But Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins noted that as food services director, Barrett would not be presenting church teachings.

“Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message,” Wilkins wrote in his ruling. “It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”

Fontbonne also employs non-Catholics, except as administrators and religion teachers, admits them as students, and even has its own policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation, Wilkins wrote. The school had tried to claim the rejection of Barrett was based on his marriage, not his orientation, but Wilkins saw no distinction there.

GLAD praised the decision. “Religiously affiliated organizations do not get a free pass to discriminate against gay and lesbian people,” GLAD senior attorney Bennett Klein said in a press release. “When Fontbonne fired Matt from a job that has nothing to do with religion, and simply because he is married, they came down on the wrong side of the law.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Barrett said in the same release. “What happened to me was wrong, and I truly hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Barrett’s case is one of several incidents of discrimination by religiously affiliated employers against people in same-sex marriages, leading activists to oppose broad religious exemptions in antidiscrimination law.

The next step in the case will be a hearing on damages, according to GLAD. Fontbonne could appeal the ruling, but whether it will do so is thus far not clear, the Associated Press reports, as school officials and their lawyers had not responded to the AP’s requests for comment.

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