MILTON, Mass. (BP) — A Massachusetts state court ruled in mid-December that a Catholic school may not deny employment to a homosexual, a decision activists hail as the first of its kind in the country.
Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls college preparatory school in Milton, offered Matthew Barrett a job as a food service director in the summer of 2013. But when Barrett filled out a new employee form and listed his “husband” as an emergency contact, school administrators rescinded the offer, citing Catholic belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
They said they required employees to model Catholic values.
On Dec. 30, Superior Court Associate Justice Douglas H. Wilkins ruled the school discriminated against Barrett in violation of Massachusetts law, which prohibits denying employment on the basis of “sexual orientation.”
In a 21-page ruling, the judge wrote the facts of the case made it clear Barrett had “suffered denial of employment, that the reason for denial was his sexual orientation, and that he suffered harm as a result.”
Wilkins said Barrett also suffered “gender discrimination” because he was denied a job “for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.”
According to The Boston Globe, Barrett’s lawyer, Ben Klein from Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the court’s decision was the first time a judge had ruled against a religious organization seeking to deny employment to a person in a same-sex marriage.
Although a Massachusetts nondiscrimination law offers an exemption to religious organizations, the exemption only applies to organizations that limit enrollment to members of their own religion. Fontbonne Academy accepts students of all faiths, so the exemption does not apply, Wilkins wrote.
In addition, the justice wrote the so-called “ministerial exception” that normally gives religious organizations broad discretion in hiring and firing employees did not apply in the case because Barrett, as a cook, would not be involved in the teaching of religious matters: “To apply the ‘ministerial’ exception here would allow all religious schools to exempt all of their employees from employment discrimination laws simply by calling their employees ministers.”
In a similar case in Georgia, a Catholic prep school settled out of court with a music teacher who claimed he was fired because he married his gay partner. In that case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed the music teacher likely had been fired because of his sexual orientation.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders said the next step in the Fontbonne case would be a hearing on monetary damages.