Federal court rules that Catholic schools cannot fire teachers for being gay

Last Friday, US District Judge Max Cogburn ruled that Lonnie Billard, a gay substitute drama and English teacher in North Carolina, was wrongfully fired in 2014. Cogburn ruled that the Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Charlotte, North Carolina violated federal protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and that the school's actions weren't protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom. According to EDGE Media Network, Cogburn also ruled that "the school's action didn't fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings."

"Plaintiff is a lay employee, who comes onto the campus of a religious school for the limited purpose of teaching secular classes, with no mandate to inculcate students with Catholic teachings," Cogburn wrote. The school and diocese are considering whether to appeal the ruling.

via LGBTQ Nation

Billard initially filed suit in 2017, three years after he announced his wedding to another man on Facebook in 2014. Within weeks of the social media announcement, Billard was informed by the school's assistant principle that he no longer had a job at the school. After Billard's firing, local diocese spokesperson David Hains stated that Billard was fired for, "going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church."

The lawsuit sought back pay, benefits, punitive damages, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and a court order blocking the school and diocese from firing other LGBTQ+ teachers in the future.

In a statement to The Charlotte Observer, the diocese wrote: "The First Amendment, federal law, and recent Supreme Court decisions all recognize the rights of religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious observance and preference. They do not — and should not — compel religious schools to employ teachers who publicly contradict their teachings."