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.

Sources:

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. If you fired me, a medical doctor, from your abortion clinic, after I had converted to Catholicism and no longer can perform abortions, should I have the right to get my job back? If not, how is discrimination against my new religion any different than discrimination against sexual orientation, which same-sex marriage prevents teaching in this environment, no differently than my religion prevents abortion? If the school is forced to rehire the gay man, shouldn’t you be forced to rehire me, too?

    In the case of gender reassignment, I can think of another example that might give one pause and say: Wait, not so fast!

  2. Charles, how cruel to make grandma and her gentleman friend live in sin. 🙂

  3. Kraaken, Yes they are still private. I taught @ a Catholic school and we said prayer, went to Mass, etc. Non Catholic kids could opt out, but they voluntarily used their voucher @ a Catholic school. There were other non-religious schools they could choose. This principal could have chosen a public school to work. It’s really not that complex, UNLESS your goal is to have the government control everything.

  4. Aren’t Catholic schools private schools? Doesn’t that mean that they can set their own standards?

  5. @Giovanna De La Paz
    “but the act of marriage of homosexuals goes against their teaching of commitment of a man and woman who procreate, as God intended.”

    SO – does that mean that people over a certain age can’t get married because they can’t procreate??

  6. More and more personal beliefs are facing employers, so the “We do not discriminate against race…” is going to have to be clarified in their handbooks. However, Mr. Zmuda knew exactly what he was doing, going against the beliefs of the church/school, and continued to cross their moral lines. If he were an honest human being, he would have confronted the authorities of the school before he got married. If there was a conflict, then he should have graciously quit his job and looked for employment elsewhere–instead, he knew he could sue the school and make some cash out of this lawsuit. Therefore, he is immoral as well as the lawyers who are representing him.
    It is also important to note, that the Catholic Church is not against homosexual people, but the act of marriage of homosexuals goes against their teaching of commitment of a man and woman who procreate, as God intended.

  7. Are there any Catholic or religiously affiliated schools that don’t recieve any tax dollars?

  8. This one is on the line but given that being part of a religion is a matter of choice, just as with any other club, for instance if you are required to wear funny hats and mumble this or that then you wear funny hats and mumble or don’t join, he isn’t forced to work there. If he doesn’t agree with the restrictions he can join another club.

    However, if this school is under the umbrella of civil law in that it is under the civil rules of the greater school board then he does have an argument. If being a member of the club is not the issue, i.e. a protestant could teach there, then he is an American and a teacher first and foremost.

    Rules and codes of private groups whether they be religious or otherwise oriented, must never impose on any individual in a way that runs counter to the basic civil rights of Americans. We have seen this in extreme sects of all religions: The jewish faith can impose restrictions on its members and make their lives miserable if they don’t adhere, however, ultimately the person is free to leave. The catholic faith can place children in harms way given the unnatural imposition of celibacy and supposed protection given child molesters. However, our laws have finally started to take a superior position over church laws regarding these goings on. The islamic religion is well known for its strict rules and fundamentalist beliefs. This is the work in progress at the moment. Fundamentalist religions impose political doctrines on their parishioners, however, one can leave or ultimately vote, in secret, as one believes. In all religions and other clubs imposition must be limited at advice; when it goes beyond advice, it’s activities should come under the rule and law of our civil society.

  9. The RCC has tenets opposing divorce, too, and yet here it is asking this man to get a divorce in order to get his job back.

  10. The following video was posted on Youtube in late December:

    Alumni urged to withhold donations from Eastside Catholic

  11. I immediately think of Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC (2012) where the Court upheld the ministerial exemption unanimously but this case is not so clear cut.

    “The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination is important. But so to is the interest of religious groups in deciding who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.” said Roberts.

    His position would make me think the school should have the freedom to decide but the fact that per the piece, “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.” gives him a stronger case.

    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.

  12. In addition to the strictly legal requirements the Church must of course respect, they are stepping out of their widely known “past practice” of covering up and transferring Pedophile Priests. Boor Past-terdz can’t win ‘eh!!!

  13. Great story Darren. It will be a tough case for the ex-principal to win. I agree with Chuck that if the school hires non-Catholics, they cannot be forced to observe and participate in church rituals. However, most Catholic schools I have attended or paid tuition at, do not hire many non Catholic teachers.

  14. Randy,
    I recall a school where the teachers and administrators were expected to refrain from dancing, drinking anything with alcohol in it, or listening to rock ‘n roll music. It was a public school, and although those rules were not written down, those were the unwritten expectations of the school board. Those rules applied even if the faculty member was on vacation out of town. If somebody saw you dancing with your wife and told the a school board member, it is likely your contract would not be renewed.

    That was in the 1960s, but I would not be surprised to learn there are still isolated school districts like that one. From a legal standpoint, I think the same thing applies here. Private behavior, even if the administration disagrees or differs, is still private behavior. If the school hires persons who are non-Catholic, then they have even less room to demand adherence to their “purity” standards. Would they demand a Jewish employee observe RCC rituals and feast days?

    1. OS I think that common sense should prevail. If you accept employment at a religious school that is private, takes no tax money, and requires deference to that religion, then it seems a little funny or absurd to think that you can PUBLICALLY spit in the face of the church and its teachings. Now it would be different if the school hired private detectives and found out that he was gay. It would be invading his privacy that might get the school in trouble. But when he chooses to declare to the world he is gay, and flaunts it, THEN he is really disputing and spitting in the face of his employer. I doubt that any employer would be expected to keep a person in its employ who publicly spit on and defamed the company. It seems like the Catholic church only got upset when he made an issue out of his sexual preferences and made it public. That is really asking for some confrontation, and he had to know that this would force them to act. So applying some reasonable common sense here, I think that to demand that his employer change their positions on matters of morality AFTER he is hired KNOWING their opposition to his lifestyle and HIS making a public declaration of his flouting and flaunting the Church’s teachings is asking a bit much to make him out to be a victim. It is like running out in the street in front of a car, being hit, and then crying about being hit for your stupidity or illegal behavior. Let’s get real. I seriously doubt he did not know the position of the Church on such matters when he was hired. So HE KNEW and did not object to their policies at the time he was hired. I am sure if he had mentioned that he was gay, they would not have hired him, and they sure would not have hired him if he had told him his intention to marry another man.

  15. I can see that Catholic and other religiously affiliated entities will have to make i clearer in their employee handbooks and employment offers that they DO indeed discriminate against homosexuals who marry, or would it be against all homosexuals married or not? In the hospitals they would need to let patients know that their care is based on the hospitals particular religious belief system and are subject to having their care there based on those beliefs. We need to know who would discriminate against who based on sexual orientation and avoid these businesses and hospitals and schools. Also these entities should NOT be getting public money. I don’t want my tax dollars helping any bigoted school, hospital or business.

  16. I think that he has a far less valid claim since he is a leader of that school and as such is more important than that of a security guard in a hospital. Since the school is specifically stated and designed to give a CATHOLIC education. it seems to be common sense that one would have to abide by Catholic doctrine and restrictions. for teachers and administrators. It would be much different if it were a janitors or electrician job. Then I think he would have a valid claim.

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