In a victory for LGBTQ employee protections nationwide, a federal court in North Carolina ruled September 3, Charlotte Catholic High School violated Title VII when it fired former Drama and English teacher Lonnie Billard for announcing his plans in a Facebook post in 2014 to marry his longtime same-sex partner, Richard Donham.
At the time he was fired, Billard had retired, but was continuing to serve as a regular substitute teacher. According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, Billard began working for the school in 2001, had never attempted to hide his sexual orientation and was also chosen as teacher of the year in 2012.
“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teach all this time,” said Lonnie Billard, plaintiff in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”
In its decision in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School, the court pointed to the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay or transgender employees from discrimination; and held that the “ministerial exception” to Title VII protections set out in Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrisey-Berru did not apply to the secular role Billard played in teaching English and Drama classes.
“Today’s decision is one of the first applications of the Supreme Court’s ban on sex discrimination to employees of private religious schools,” said Irena Como, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “The court sent a clear message that Charlotte Catholic violated Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination when it fired Mr. Billard for announcing his engagement to his same-sex partner. Religious schools have the right to decide who will perform religious functions or teach religious doctrine, but when they hire employees for secular jobs they must comply with Title VII and cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation.”
The case will now proceed to trial to determine the appropriate relief for Billard, while Charlotte Catholic looks for potential ways to appeal.
An interesting side note: In October, 2020, Pope Francis called for the recognition of Civil Unions.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said. “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
Additionally, according to a 2019 Pew Research Poll, 63 percent of American Catholics support marriage equality.
The local Roman Catholic diocese is in hot water again for anti-LGBT discrimination, this time firing a gay teacher after he announced he would marry his same-gender partner later this year.
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