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Mass. court holds Catholic school liable for sexual orientation discrimination

A Massachusetts state court has held that a Catholic school violated the state’s law against sexual orientation discrimination when it fired its food services director because he was a gay man with a same-sex spouse. We previously reported on this case when it was filed. The Catholic school, Fontbonne Academy, fired Matthew Barrett when it learned that he was a gay man with a male spouse. Like Maine, Massachusetts has an employment discrimination law that expressly prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. Fontbonne, however, argued, among other things, that the First Amendment entitled it to discriminate against Mr. Barrett for religious reasons.

The court rejected Fontbonne’s arguments for a variety of reasons. As we previously reported, under the First Amendment, religious institutions can deny employment to people who would serve as “ministers” in the institution. The court found that a food services director at Fontbonne did not qualify as a minister. The duties of a food services director at Fontbonne does not include being an administrator or teacher of religious matters. The court also held that Barrett’s status as a gay man would not significantly burden Fontbonne’s ability to provide an education to students “rooted in gospel values and the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Barrett was not fired for advocating for same-sex marriage and his job would not have put him in a position to teach students about “gospel values” and the “teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed this lawsuit against Fontbonne Academy on behalf of Mr. Barrett. “Religiously-affiliated organizations do not get a free pass to discriminate against gay and lesbian people,” said Bennett Klein, GLAD Senior Attorney. “When Fontbonne fired Matt from a job that has nothing to do with religion, and simply because he is married, they came down on the wrong side of the law.”