US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Gay vice principal sues Catholic school claiming wrongful dismissal

By Catherine O'Donnell | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

c. 2014 Religion News Service

SEATTLE (RNS) Forced out of his Catholic school job for marrying his same-sex partner, a gay vice principal in suburban Seattle has filed a wrongful-dismissal suit against his former school.

Mark Zmuda claims that as vice principal of Eastside Catholic School, his duties were “purely administrative and unrelated to any religious practice or activity.” He filed suit in King County Superior Court against the school and the Archdiocese of Seattle. The suit follows at least eight similar suits filed across the country.

In a news conference Friday (March 7), Zmuda, 38, said that prior to accepting the job, he read anti-discrimination statements in the employee handbook and relied on them when accepting the job in 2012.

In December, the school fired Zmuda, saying he violated terms of his contract, which require adherence to Catholic Church teachings. The church forbids same-sex marriage, and court rulings have upheld religious institutions’ rights to hire and fire according to the tenets of their faith.

In February, however, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that nonprofit religious institutions in the state could be sued for job discrimination if an employee’s job is unrelated to religion.

Eastside has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying the court can’t adjudicate the case without violating the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religious practice.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Seattle said it would ask the court to dismiss Zmuda’s suit too.

“The archdiocese did not direct, nor does it have the ability or authority to direct, employment decisions made by Eastside Catholic School, but the archdiocese believes the school’s decision is consistent with Catholic teaching,” the statement reads.

When Zmuda was let go from Eastside Catholic, hundreds of students walked out and staged a sit-in. They subsequently submitted a petition with at least 21,000 signatures protesting the dismissal to the archdiocese.

Zmuda seeks unstated damages against Eastside Catholic for loss of his job and difficulty in continuing his career as a school administrator.