Court sides with Catholic school that fired a guidance counselor because she’s married to a woman

Author: John Russell

An Indiana Catholic school was within its rights to fire an employee because of her same-sex marriage, according to a federal appeals court.

In 2018, Roncalli High School in Indianapolis fired Shelly Fitzgerald as part of a multi-school purge of gay and lesbian faculty ordered by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson. Fitzgerald was one of two guidance counselors who was let go that year for being in a same-sex marriage.

That same year, Fitzgerald appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show with some of her former students. She said that the school found out that she was married to a woman when someone obtained her marriage certificate from the county and sent it to her bosses. She said she was told that she could get divorced, resign, or quietly finish the school year and then leave. She didn’t like those options, so a week later she was placed on administrative leave and later fired. She said the school also outed her to students and parents in a press release.

Fitzgerald sued, but last week, an appellate court judge sided with the school, citing a “ministerial exception” exempting religious institutions from federal employment discrimination laws and allowing them to fire employees because of their personal beliefs, according to The Hill.

Fitzgerald argued that she should not be covered by the “ministerial exception” because she had no role in religious practice or oversight.

Judge Richard Young ruled however that she was part of the school’s administrative counsel and did counsel students on religion.

“Fitzgerald’s membership in this group made her one of a handful of ‘key, visible leader[s]’ of the school,” Young wrote in his decision. “And despite Fitzgerald’s attempts to undermine her contributions, there is no genuine dispute that Fitzgerald participated in some of the religious aspects of the Administrative Counsel.”

As The Hill notes, the “ministerial exception” generally applies to employees whose work directly involves religious practice. But a 2020 Supreme Court decision expanded the rule to include teachers at religious schools. Young’s decision last week expands that exemption further to include guidance counselors.

Young’s decision is yet another blow to LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination protections, following the Supreme Court’s decision last month in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis that said certain business owners have the right under the First Amendment’s free speech protections to deny service on the basis of their personal beliefs

Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: John Russell

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