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Catholic School Staffer Fired for Same-Sex Marriage Goes to Court

Jaclyn Vanore and Kate Drumgoole
From left: Jaclyn Vanore and Kate Drumgoole

Kate Drumgoole was fired for her marriage. Her school claims "religious freedom" and wants her lawsuit dismissed, but she says it should abide by state antidiscrimination law.

In what's become a familiar story, a Catholic school staff member has been fired for entering into a same-sex marriage -- and is fighting back with a lawsuit.

Kate Drumgoole was dean of guidance and girls' basketball coach at Paramus Catholic High School, her alma mater, in New Jersey for several years until she was fired in January, reports New Jersey paper The Record. She had married her longtime partner, Jaclyn Vanore, two years ago, but did not disclose the fact to coworkers or students. After a family dispute, however, Vanore's sister shared the couple's wedding pictures on social media against their wishes, even sending them in private messages to the school's Facebook page.

That led to Drumgoole's firing, as school officials said adherence to the Roman Catholic faith was a condition of her employment, and same-sex marriages violate Catholic teachings. She sued, saying the school had to abide by New Jersey antidiscriminationlaw, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. School administrators and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, also named in her suit, contend the law allows religiously affiliated employers to require that employees follow their faith.

Attorney Christopher Westrick, representing the school, made that argument Friday in an attempt to persuade a Bergen County Superior Court judge that the suit should be dismissed. "Those First Amendment rights, that exception of the [antidiscrimination law] provided for religious organizations, absolutely prevents this case from going forward," he said, according to The Record.

However, Eric Kleiner, one of Drumgoole's attorneys, said other staff members at Paramus Catholic violate various tenets of the Catholic faith and continue to be employed. Some are divorced, at least one has a child out of wedlock, and some live with members of the opposite sex without being married, he pointed out, while at least one other staffer is gay. He also said that because the school circulated an antidiscrimination policy to its staff, it is bound to abide by New Jersey's law on this matter. The case should proceed, he said.

Judge Lisa Perez Friscia did not rule Friday but is expected to do so early next week, The Record reports.

Drumgoole told reporters after the hearing that she was not surprised by the attention her case has received. "It's a big issue that is affecting more and more people," she said, according to The Record. She has received many messages of support, she added: "People are outraged. People I graduated with or went to school with are very ashamed." Several former colleagues have praised her as a model employee in various media accounts.

Her suit seeks lost wages and unspecified damages, but she is not trying to return to work at Paramus Catholic. "Imagine what would happen to her," Larry Kleiner, her other attorney, told The Record.

Drumgoole, who pointed out in court documents that her job never involved teaching religion, has also said her firing may have been retaliatory, according to an earlier story in The Record. "She notified school administrators that three 17-year-old students had been sexually abused by two Paramus Catholic employees who were chaperoning a trip to Europe in 2011," the paper reports.

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