A former teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, has won a lawsuit against his former Catholic employer after claiming he lost his job due to his desire to marry a male partner.
Lonnie Billard had taught drama full-time at Charlotte Catholic High School since 2001, with the occasional substitute assignment. However, when Billard announced that he was going to marry his male partner in 2014, the school informed Billard that they could no longer employ him due to his marriage being contrary to the religious principles of the Catholic Church.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina partnered with Billard to file a lawsuit against the school, claiming that their dismissal of Billard was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sex.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Charlotte Catholic School and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte had indeed violated Title VII. District Judge Cogburn ruled that federal laws protecting church autonomy and freedom of association do not protect the school from liability for violating Title VII. Cogburn requested that Charlotte Catholic School pay Billard back-pay and benefits, punitive damages and compensatory damages for emotional distress. He also filed a court order blocking the school from taking similar action in the future.
"Today's decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man," Billard stated in a statement released by ACLU.
The Diocese, in contrast, expressed that they "respectfully disagree" with the judge on the ruling and that they are considering the next steps. "The First Amendment, federal law, and recent Supreme Court decisions all recognize the rights of religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious observance and preference," argues the Diocese in a pre-written statement. "They do not - and should not - compel religious schools to employ teachers who publicly contradict their teachings."