Judge refuses to toss suit against Catholic school that fired teacher for ‘marrying’ gay partner
SEATTLE, WA, May 29, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Washington judge last week denied a request by Eastside Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Seattle to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by the school’s former vice principal, who was forced to resign in December for “marrying” his homosexual lover.
Mark Zmuda sued Eastside Catholic in March, claiming the school violated its own discrimination policy in asking him to leave his job. But the school has repeatedly pointed to the morality clause Zmuda and all diocesan employees have signed, agreeing to publicly uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith, which expressly forbid same-sex “marriage.”
School and archdiocesan attorneys asked King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer to toss out the suit, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the case without violating the school’s first amendment right to freedom of religion. But in a decision issued Friday, Shaffer disagreed, writing, “The Federal and Supreme Courts have made it clear that an employee can sue regardless of ministerial doctrine.”
Zmuda alleges that school administrators sent mixed signals during his 18-month tenure as vice principal, telling him that his homosexual relationship was “none of their business,” but encouraging him to keep quiet about it in front of students and parents. Things came to a head in November, after a concerned parent notified the Archdiocese about photos on his Facebook page that she found inappropriate for a Catholic educator. Zmuda says it was only then that the school confronted him about his “marriage,” and told him to either divorce his partner or resign.
The decision to sever ties with Zmuda is thought to have come directly from Archbishop Peter Sartain. At a December 19 faculty meeting announcing Zmuda’s departure, Eastside Catholic’s then-president Sister Mary Tracy reportedly claimed her “hands were tied” because the order came down from the archdiocese. Zmuda also claims the school offered to cover the cost of a “commitment ceremony” for the couple if they agreed to obtain a civil divorce.
Sr. Tracy later resigned her own position at the school, not long after the school’s part-time drama coach announced her plans to “marry” her lesbian lover. Sr. Tracy refused to take disciplinary action against the drama coach, and reportedly told students, “I look forward to the day where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex.” The coach, Stephanie Merrow, was later presented with an amended contract that made it clear she would not be subject to the same morality requirements as traditional staff, and given a small raise.
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Meanwhile, Zmuda has been hired as associate principal at Mercer Island High School, a public school in another Seattle suburb.
Calls from LifeSiteNews to archdiocesan spokesman Greg Magnoni seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time. However, Archbishop Sartain stated previously in a press release that Eastside Catholic did the right thing in separating from Zmuda.
“The … personnel decision by the board and administrators of Eastside Catholic regarding Mr. Zmuda was made after a great deal of prayer and consultation,” the archbishop wrote. “In no way was their goal to be discriminatory to anyone but to be faithful to their mission as a Catholic school. The Archdiocese supports their decision.”
“The decision has been misunderstood and mischaracterized by some, and we now have an opportunity to help our students learn even more about Catholic teaching,” the archbishop added. “Pope Francis has often reminded us of the limitless mercy of God, for Jesus came to bring his Father's mercy. At the same time, Pope Francis has also reminded us of our responsibility as Catholics to live the timeless truth of Church teaching on a wide variety of topics, including the sacredness of traditional marriage.”
A meeting will be held Friday between lawyers for Zmuda, Eastside Catholic School, and the archdiocese to begin the discovery process in the case.