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Catholic School Can Fire Lesbian for Being Married Says Federal Judge

Roncalli Catholic HIgh School

A judge in Indiana ruled that a private Catholic school was within its rights to fire a long-time guidance counselor because she married her partner.

In Indiana, a federal court ruled in favor of a Catholic private school that fired a guidance counselor for being in a same-sex marriage.

In Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Judge Richard Young ruled that the archdiocese and its schools could hire, retain, or dismiss faculty members based on their religious beliefs.

A co-director of guidance at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Shelly Fitzgerald, was terminated from her job after it was revealed that she had married her wife. Since Fitzgerald's admitted conduct violated her employment agreement, the school refused to renew her contract. In response, the guidance counselor sued Roncalli and the archdiocese for discrimination, the National Reviewreports.

The judge, however, threw out her lawsuit last week and sided with the school.

According to the court, she violated her contractual duty to serve as a minister of faith to her students and peers, which the court ruled was part of a contract she signed before she was hired. As part of the contract, a default clause stipulated she would lose her job if she engaged in conduct that violated "moral or religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." According to Catholic doctrine, marriage must be between a man and a woman.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court in Illinois threw out the lawsuit filed by a different guidance counselor at Roncalli High School. The case was Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis.As recently as August, the Indiana Supreme Court sided with the archdiocese when it ruled Joshua Payne-Elliott could be fired for being in a same-sex marriage and working at Cathedral Catholic High School.

During her fifteen years at Roncalli High School, Fitzgerald advised students on their academic, professional, and vocational options as a state-licensed professional counselor.

In 2014, when Indiana legalized same-sex marriage, Fitzgerald and her wife, Victoria, married after 25 years together. Four years after they wed, she was called into a meeting with the school's principal (who had long known Fitzgerald was a lesbian) along with Roncalli's president. According to them, her relationship violated Catholic teachings, and they presented her with a copy of her marriage license. Then, they gave a few "options" to her: dissolve her marriage, resign her position, keep quiet about why she was being terminated until her one-year contract ends, or be removed immediately.

It was Fitzgerald's refusal to dissolve her marriage or resign that led the school to place her on administrative leave, ban her from the school campus, and release a press release stating that she was being placed on paid administrative leave as a result of living in an invalid union in the eyes of the church. In the spring of 2019, administrators informed her that the school would not renew her contract.

Students were dismayed and demanded from officials that they undo the administration's decision; however, their concerns went unaddressed.

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