COLUMBUS, Ohio — Her grievance denied by the Bishop Watterson High School principal who signed her termination letter, Carla Hale said Wednesday morning that she will take her case against the Catholic Diocese of Columbus to the city’s Community Relations Commission.
Hale, the 19-year Watterson teacher and coach who was fired by church leaders during Holy Week because she’s a lesbian, told a news conference at Stonewall Columbus that she wants her job back.
“I have committed my 19-year professional career to one thing: ensuring that our next generation achieves its full potential,” she said. “I love my job. I don’t want money. I don’t want fame. I simply want to return to Bishop Watterson.”
Hale said she will appeal the denial of her grievance by Watterson High School Principal Marian Hutson to the next level within the church.
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Her lawyer, Thomas Tootle, has said Hale also will consider filing suit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, although federal law and state law in Ohio don’t outlaw job discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Columbus does, however, and Bishop Watterson and the Catholic Diocese are located within the city. Religious organizations are not exempt from the city ordinance.
Hale said her meeting Tuesday with Hutson lasted less than five minutes. She said Catholic church officials – who have refused to comment publicly on their decision to fire Hale – insisted to her that she wasn’t fired because she’s a lesbian.
Hale was fired because she “publicized a spousal relationship” with another woman, she said she was told. She included her partner, Julie, among family members in a newspaper obituary for her mother, who died in February.
Tootle called church officials’ reasoning “a distinction without a difference.”
“The decision that I made to acknowledge Julie, my partner, in my mother’s obituary is not immoral,” Hale said.
“In most parts of this country, it is legal and acceptable to fire an employee on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. Columbus, Ohio, is not one of those places.”
Based on the church’s claim that it will fire any employee who goes against its teachings, Tootle said, anyone who uses birth control, is living with an unmarried partner or has been divorced is in danger of losing his or her job.
And that danger extends beyond Catholic-school teachers to employees at Mount Carmel medical facilities, cemeteries and other church-run organizations, Tootle added.
Hale thanked people who have signed a Change.org petition – more than 53,000 as of Wednesday morning – and who have spoken out to support her since her firing. People close to Watterson say faculty at the school, although fearful to speak out publicly, are squarely on her side.
In an interview with Outlook on Tuesday, Hale said the negative message of her firing has been outweighed many times over by the positive outpouring that followed. She urged LGBT kids to focus instead on what has happened afterward in Columbus and around the nation.
“I’m hoping that, possibly for the first time in many of their lives, they actually see the love and support that’s being generated,” Hale said.
“It’s one of those subjects that can’t ever be discussed (in Catholic schools), but I’m hoping now they can actually see what this whole situation has created, that there is a lot more support out there than they could have even imagined,” she said.
“Hopefully that’s what stays and that’s what endures and continues on from this whole situation.”
Hale wore a bracelet at the news conference that she said Watterson teachers began wearing to support a colleague battling cancer. It has double meaning now, she said.
It reads: “No one fights alone.”