February 2016 Church & State - February 2015

Mass. Catholic School Discriminated Against Gay Man, Court Rules

  AU admin

A Massachusetts Catholic school discriminated against a gay man when it rescinded a job offer because of his sexual orientation, a court ruled recently.

Matthew Barrett was hired as director of food services for Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls school in Milton, in 2013. But Barrett’s job offer was cancelled soon after he accepted because he listed his husband as an emergency contact.

Then-Fontbonne head Mary Ellen Barnes told Barrett that his same-sex relationship was “inconsistent” with Catholic doctrine. Barrett sued, calling the move discriminatory.

In court, the school’s attorneys argued that Fontbonne deserves a religious exemption from state anti-discrimination laws, but Judge Douglas H. Wilkins of the Norfolk Superior Court disagreed.

“Fontbonne’s discrimination ‘because of’ Barrett’s same-sex marriage is undisputed and, as shown above, amounts to discriminatory intent as a matter of law,” Wilkins wrote. “It is clear that, because he is male, he suffered gender discrimination when he was denied employment for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.”

Added the judge: “As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message. It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesperson for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”

Wilkins said Fontbonne would be allowed a religious exemption only if it restricted “membership, enrollment, or participation” to members of a single religion. The school, however, is open to all faiths except in its administration, theology faculty and mission and ministry staff, he wrote.

Ben Klein, Barrett’s attorney, praised the decision in Barrett v. Fontbonne Academy.

“Marriage equality has been the law of Massachusetts for over a decade and is now the law of the land,” Klein told the Boston Globe. “But you can’t have equality if you can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday.”

Fontbonne officials said in a statement that they are contemplating the school’s next steps in the matter.

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