Lynn Starkey was a guidance counselor at the Catholic Roncalli High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for nearly 40 years — until the archdiocese fired her for marrying another woman. Now, she is suing for discrimination.
Starkey filed the lawsuit July 29, alleging the archdiocese and the school discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation, maintained a hostile work environment and retaliated against her after she made complaints of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit states Starkey is suing for lost back and front pay, loss of future earning capacity, lost benefits and emotional distress: damages she suffered as a result of her employer’s retaliation.
The archdiocese stood by its decision in a statement to NBC News on the grounds of religious beliefs. It says it requires school employees to uphold the faith in and outside of work.
“To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action, both inside and outside the classroom,” the statement said.
The archdiocese said Starkey “knowingly violated” her contract by entering into the marriage.
Shelley Fitzgerald, another lesbian guidance counselor at the school also raised complaints in 2018 after officials discovered she was married to a woman and placed her on administrative leave. She had been working at the school for 15 and has been with her partner for 22.
Someone allegedly found her marriage license and sent it to the school administrator after she had kept her personal life private for years.
Both Fitzgerald and Starkey were given the same ultimatum: resign or “dissolve” their marriages.
Fitzgerald told NBC she is Catholic and an alum of Roncalli High School. A Facebook page students and alumni created to show support for Fitzgerald and call for change in the archdiocese’s contracts has over 4,600 members. As of last summer, she told NBC, she hoped to resolve the issue with the archdiocese instead of having to file a discrimination suit.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin, but does not specify sexual orientation in its language. In April, the Supreme Court announced it would be taking on cases that would decide if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 inherently applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. Though the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has argued it does, the Trump administration has said it does not.
Furthermore, the issue becomes even cloudier with the issue of religious freedom and First Amendment rights. The text of Title VII says it is not applicable to religious entities.
“This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities,” it says.
Pope Francis’ comments regarding the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality have been mixed, and the Church’s official stance on homosexuality seems unlikely to change.
One survivor of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in Chile saying he told the Pope he was gay, to which he allegedly replied, “It doesn’t matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this.”
On the other hand, though, the Pope said in April that though homosexual “tendencies” are not a sin, but that sin involves action. He urged parents who notice “strange things” in their children to take them to a psychiatrist.