Archdiocese faces third discrimination complaint over same-sex marriage policy

Archdiocese faces third discrimination complaint over same-sex marriage policy

Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, who was appointed June 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, who was appointed June 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

.- The Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Wednesday defended its decision not to renew the contract of a school employee who publicly defended the same-sex marriages of two former colleagues. 

Kelley Fisher, who had worked as a social worker at Roncalli High School for 15 years, lost her job last spring after she publicly defended guidance counselors Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey, two former guidance counselors who were both dismissed last academic year for being in same-sex marriages, the Indianapolis Star reported. 

Fisher, who has said she identifies as straight, was an employee of Catholic Charities of Indianapolis, an entity that is also overseen by the Archdiocese. Fisher was contracted as a social worker by the school through Catholic Charities and reportedly received multiple warnings from the school before her contract was not renewed. 

In a statement made following the filing of Fisher’s complaint and provided to CNA, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis defended its decision to not renew Fisher’s contract.

“If a school’s leaders reject core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission,” the Archdiocese stated. “Because of that, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.” 

The statement added that parents rely on the Archdiocese to ensure that their students are receiving an authentically Catholic education. 

“Many families in our community have sacrificed so their children can attend schools where they will learn the Catholic faith. They rely on the Archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so,” the Archdiocese said. 

Fisher filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Roncalli and the Archdiocese, both of which are also facing a recently filed federal lawsuit from Fitzgerald, who claimed her firing was discriminatory in nature. 

Fitzgerald entered a civil same-sex marriage in 2014. According to the Indianapolis Star, after her civil marriage was brought to the school’s attention, Fitzgerald was asked to resign of her own accord, dissolve the civil marriage, or to maintain discretion about the situation until her contract expired. She refused these options and was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of the last school year, and remained on leave until her employment contract expired.

David Page, Fitzgerald's lawyer, argued in the lawsuit that his client was treated differently than heterosexual employees who have disobeyed other Catholic teachings.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Fisher said she was let go after she made two public Facebook posts in support of Fitzgerald and Starkey and advocating for a change in the archdiocesan contracts that require employees to adhere to Catholic teaching in and out of the classroom. 

“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher told the Indianapolis Star.

“Our job is, as a counselor or social worker, that we don't bring our values or judgment into a session,” she added. “And I feel very strongly about that.”

Fisher and three anonymous employees also told the Indianapolis Star that they were told by Roncalli that they needed to get permission to attend an event for Shelly’s Voice, a non-profit founded by Roncalli students in support of Fitzgerald after she was placed on leave.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis said in its statement that these employees were “mistaken.”

“No teachers or counselors were told they need permission to attend outside events or civil weddings of any kind,” the Archdiocese said. “The expectations for all teachers and counselors at Roncalli are clearly laid out in the school handbook, and the superintendent of Catholic schools meets with any employees who have questions.” 

The Archdiocese has been the subject of multiple recent complaints and lawsuits due to its policy on same-sex marriages for school employees.

A Jesuit high school in the archdiocese, Brebeuf Prep, appealed to the Vatican after the archdiocese revoked its Catholic status earlier this year when it would not terminate an employee in a same-sex civil marriage. That appeal is still pending.

In August, Joshua Payne-Elliot, a teacher dismissed from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, filed suit after he was dismissed for contracting a same-sex civil marriage. In September, the federal Department of Justice said the school’s decision was protected by the First Amendment. 

Despite these challenges, the Archdiocese reported that “staff retention at Roncalli High School was 88 percent this past year, which is Roncalli’s highest staff retention rate in the past five years.”

“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis remains committed to providing high quality, holistic Catholic education and formation so that young people recognize the many gifts with which they have been blessed, and in turn strive to make God known, loved, and served,” the statement added.

“We invite anyone seeking a Christ-centered, student-focused learning environment where young people are supported in being the best versions of themselves to check out one or more of the 67 Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana.”

Tags: Same-sex marriage, Archdiocese of Indianapolis