Federal judge rules in favor of archdiocese in Roncalli same-sex marriage discrimination case

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INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Title VII did not apply in a lawsuit brought forward by a former Roncalli school counselor who claims she was discriminated against based on her sexual orientation.

The judgment issued Wednesday by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana states that Lynn Starkey’s claims are all barred by the Ministerial Exception, so the motions she brought forward were denied at moot.

Starkey filed the lawsuit in November 2018 after school administrators decided not to renew her contract on the grounds that her same-sex marriage violated Catholic teachings. She claims she was discriminated against based on her sexual orientation.

Starkey filed a discrimination charge in order to initiate a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This title protects employees and applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

The FTC says the protection covers the full spectrum of employment decisions, including recruitment, selections, terminations, and other decisions concerning terms and conditions of employment.

The school says same-sex marriage violates their contracts. The Archdiocese responded with this statement:

Contracts for school ministerial positions are one (1) year contracts. The contract specifically states: “This contract is not automatically renewable. The School Guidance Counselor has no right to, or the promise of a contract exceeding the school year.”

Ms. Starkey is currently in breach of her contract with Roncalli High School, because she is in a civil union that is considered “contrary to a valid marriage as seen through the eyes of the Catholic Church.”

The 2019-2020 contract language will contain the same language. Therefore, Ms. Starkey could not in good faith enter into the contract so long as she is unable to abide by the terms of the contract.

Archdiocese of Indianapolis

In the judgment by Judge Richard Young, the court found that the ministerial exception applied in this case. This exception protects religious organizations under the First Amendment by barring legal claims by employees who carry out religious functions.

The ruling states the exception bars all claims of discrimination under Title VII, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

While the ruling states that Starkey conceded that the exception barred her discrimination and retaliation claims, she argued that the hostile work environment claim and state law claims could proceed.

The court disagreed with this argument, as the hostile work environment claim being barred by the ministerial exception was concluded with another case that ruled that “It would be incongruous if the independence of religious organizations mattered only at the beginning (hiring) and the end (firing) of the ministerial relationship, and not in between (work environment).”

The court also said the state law claims would be barred because the decision not to renew her contract goes to the heart of the church’s right to “select and control who will minister to the faithful.”

To read the full decision, read below, or download it here.

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