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California teacher sues school that fired him after marrying

Last summer we discussed the story of an openly gay teacher at St. Lucy's Priory High School, a Catholic high school in Glendora, California, who was fired after he married his partner of ten years. As we noted, school administrators had known that the teacher was gay for the majority of his years at the school, and he had brought his partner to school functions on multiple occasions. However, they fired him when the couple's wedding photos appeared in a local newspaper. The attorney for the popular, well-respected teacher at that time said the teacher hoped to resolve the matter without litigation.

That was not to be. The 45-year-old man is now suing the all-girls school where he had worked since 1998. The wrongful termination suit was filed earlier this month in Los Angeles Superior Court. He contends that his firing violates his right to marry, which is protected by the constitution, and is alleging breach of contract. The teacher and his partner were married as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of same-sex marriage in California. He was fired just two weeks later.

The suit discusses the meeting where he was fired. The plaintiff says he was "utterly shocked and unprepared" for the termination. Further, he says that even while firing him, the administrator noted that he was an "exceptional" teacher.

The suit notes that many faculty, administrators and students knew that the plaintiff was gay and had met his partner, whom he's known since 2003. The plaintiff notes that the teacher's employer was not mentioned anywhere in the wedding announcement in the local paper.

There has been widespread support among the school community and the public for the plaintiff. He taught English, dance and art. He also worked on the yearbook. The plaintiff is asking for both punitive and compensatory damages. At least one protest rally was held following his firing.

While California workplaces with religious affiliations may believe they have the right to terminate or otherwise discriminate against employees for elements of their personal lives that conflict with their beliefs, they still have to abide by state and federal employment laws. This suit is accusing the school of violating the California Labor Code. Regardless of the type of employer people work for, they should never assume that the employer has the right to fire them for any actions that don't impact their work.

Source:  San Gabriel Valley Tribune, "Fired gay Glendora Catholic schoolteacher sues St. Lucy's Priory" No author given, Mar. 15, 2014

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