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Catholic school in Mass. allegedly refused to hire food services director because of his sexual orientation

Matthew Barrett, a gay man from Dorchester, Massachusetts, has filed a complaint against Fontbonne Academy because he claims the Catholic school rescinded an offer to hire him as its food services director on the basis of his sexual orientation. He said that when the school learned he had a husband, the head of the school told him that the school would not hire him because he was married to a man.

In Massachusetts, like Maine, employers may not discriminate against applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation. Importantly, for religious institutions, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment requires a “ministerial exception” to all employment discrimination laws, including laws that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court held that employment discrimination laws could not apply to a religious institution’s decision on whom to employ as a “minister.” The court refused to set forth a test for determining whether a position qualifies as a “ministerial” position but it did hold that the teaching position at issue in that case was ministerial and, thus, the teacher could not bring a discrimination lawsuit against Hosanna-Tabor.

The attorneys who represent Mr. Barrett argue that the food services director position he sought, unlike the teaching position at issue in Hosanna-Tabor, was not ministerial. “Religiously affiliated entities do not have a free pass to do as they please in how they treat employees, particularly when it comes to our important laws against discrimination,” said Bennett Klein, a senior attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). “Our laws carefully balance the important values of religious liberty and non-discrimination. When Fontbonne Academy fired Matt from a job that has nothing to do with religion, they came down on the wrong side of the law.”