Former Vice-Principal To File Lawsuit Against Catholic Church Over Termination For Gay Marriage

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend ContributorEastside Catholic Church Logo

Mark Zmuda announced he is suing Eastside Catholic school and the Seattle Archdioceses for wrongful termination after he legally married his male partner. The case stems from his employment as vice-principal to the school was satisfactory for years and that after he announced he had married his male partner, he was given an ultimatum to divorce his spouse or his employment with the school would be terminated. Mark refused to divorce and was fired.

Employment Attorney, Jeffrey Needle, stated the case is likely to go to the appellate courts and potential the state supreme court for its precedent setting nature. The church counters Mark’s claim, proffering its status as a religious organization which holds tenets that bar gay marriage. However, a recent state supreme court decision might prove difficult for the church to support that position.

Mark believes a central argument for his case is that he did not serve in a religious role in the school and that his position was administrative, that is his employment as Eastside Catholic’s vice-principal and not one of a clergy member or one tasked with imparting religious teachings onto the students. As such he is subject to the statutory employment protections as codified in Chapter 49.60 of the Revised Code of Washington which is also known as the Washington’s Law Against Discrimination.

A recent February ruling by the Washington Supreme court may give Mark a stronger position. In Ockletree v. Franciscan Health System the court ruled the definition of Employer was not constitutionally protected for the purpose of exemption from the WLAD in its prohibition from discrimination in the workplace when coupled with the employee’s claim that the religious, non-profit organization discriminated against him for reasons wholly unrelated to any religious purpose, practice or activity. Since Larry Ockletree was employed as a security guard, the position was not subject to religious exemption from employee labor rights.

The effect of this ruling meant that Eastside Catholic could be subject to respecting these rights upon showing Mark was in an employment capacity similar to Larry’s.

In a motion to dismiss, Eastside Catholic and the Seattle Archdiocese (also a defendant in Larry’s lawsuit) defines Larry’s role a religious one that required him to “serve the legitimate Roman Catholic religious value of providing a suitable Catholic education for children.”

Jeffrey countered, stating “Let’s say there was a nun and she decided she wanted to become a priest. That would be gender discrimination in the real world,” he said. “But because they have a 1st Amendment right of religion, both of establishment and free exercise, the nun can’t sue the church.”

In Zmuda’s case, however, his role as vice principal is not so clear, despite his employer’s religious affiliation.

Mark Zmuda
Mark Zmuda

Mark states Eastside Catholic warranted that it does not discriminate and hence he relied on this promise if he chose employment there and that he would not have applied for the job had it mentioned discrimination against gay marriage stating the school’s website
“did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation. “If I had read the school’s website and it had said, ‘We do not hire gay men or gay men who marry,’ I would have never taken the job at Eastside Catholic,” He also said the employee handbook indicated the school did not discriminate.

Mark’s attorney Richard Friedman went a step further, stating ““The heart of the case is really just a standard employment case. You can’t represent something to a potential employee, have them rely upon it, and then take it back. This happened to be a particular representation, ‘We won’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status,” Richard said. “The law is very clear that representations by an employer to an employee is enforceable if the employee relies upon them.”

Friedman would not specify what kind of resolution Zmuda is seeking, but said it’s unlikely Zmuda would return to Eastside Catholic.

“There’s real concern that his career has been ruined. He’s going to have to report he was fired any time he applies for a job now,” Richard said. “The hope is that, in one way or another, he’ll be able to get back to being in school administration, which is what he wants to do.”

Zmuda said he has been comforted by students, parents, teachers and alumni who have called on the school to reinstate him.


Ockletree v. Franciscan Health System (PDF)
Chapter 49.60 RCW
King5 News

By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

37 thoughts on “Former Vice-Principal To File Lawsuit Against Catholic Church Over Termination For Gay Marriage”

  1. “My new home state of WA appears to be fighting the good battles of late!”
    Welcome to Washington James

  2. “I believe the Vice-Principal knew what he was doing and the consequences. I reckon he was more interested in a lawsuit and pushing an agenda than working at the school.”

    Based on what? Your powers of telepathy? Did you get romantically involved with any of your partners with the express purpose of screwing some organization that really really doesn’t like you? You seem to think everyone who is gay is also militant, and that this motivates EVERYTHING.

    It never occurs to people such as yourself that YOUR negative commentary always begins the assault, and any “militancy” is simply to avoid being killed, as the good book suggests in some of its kindlier passages.

    Two words will effectively combat both your and the RCC’s baseless sex negativity: grow up.

  3. Kind of silly really. Yeah, don’t flog gays for being gays as they want to do in Nigeria & Uganda. But also don’t be so bloody stupid about so called discrimination against an employee who is violating the code of the religious institution he worked for!

  4. samantha, if a doctor cannot perform his function (regardless of his religion or even let’s say the occurrence of a life-changing disease or handicap) he would have to be fired–because he cannot do his job. The VP’s sexuality and his marriage in no way affect his performance. Quite frankly, I support the Church’s stance because the gay Vice-Principal should not have announced his marriage which contradicts the school’s traditional Catholic values the same way let’s say a heterosexual female Vice-Principal should not announce having a abortion. Both are entitled and have a right to do these things (or perhaps will if the US continues to allow for gay marriage and protect women’s right to have an abortion), but both should be discrete considering the conservative working environment–they chose themselves–to work in.

    I believe the Vice-Principal knew what he was doing and the consequences. I reckon he was more interested in a lawsuit and pushing an agenda than working at the school.

  5. Elezer wrote:
    “The school was basically asking for a lawsuit by putting in their policy something that was inconsistent with the Church’s teaching.

    If this case gains traction I assume other schools will not make the same mistake in the future.”
    I agree this might be favorable to the plaintiff. In fact, the school reportedly took the non-discriminatory langage off its website recently.

  6. Let me pull an Elaine or an Annie and turn a thread about a dumb thing the Catholic Church has done into a thread about Islam: In Muslim countries this teacher would not have been fired…he would have been executed.

  7. Thx, Nick. I sort of thought that’s the story. Seems, then, the Principal is SOL.

  8. Learn how to read alleged Master’s Degree. I NEVER CLAIMED THEY DIDN’T GET PUBLIC FUNDING.

  9. Samantha, All of a sudden I started thinking of The Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense.

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