News (USA)

Judge allows gay administrator’s lawsuit against Catholic school to go forward

SEATTLE — A lawsuit against a Washington state Catholic high school that fired an openly gay administrator after he married his same-sex partner can move forward, a judge has ruled.

Mark Zmuda
Mark Zmuda

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer on Friday rejected a motion to dismiss the case, brought by Mark Zmuda, who was fired last year from Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Wash., after marrying Dana Jergens in July 2013.

In a ruling read from the bench Friday, Shaffer said it did not appear that proceeding with the case would interfere with the school’s First Amendment rights, and that if facts outlined in the complaint by Zmuda could be proven, “it looks like we would be entitled to relief,” Zmuda’s attorney Rick Friedman told the National Catholic Reporter.

The suit, filed March 7, names Eastside Catholic and the Seattle archdiocese as defendants.

Zmuda’s lawsuit accuses the school and the church of discrimination, wrongful termination and violation of the state consumer protection laws. Zmuda’s lawyers argue he was not a religious employee of the school.

The school and the church determined last December that Zmuda couldn’t continue in his job after they learned he had married his same-sex partner. They cited an employment agreement Zmuda had signed that said his public behaviors would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church.

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But as a compromise, the school suggested that Zmuda could divorce his husband to keep his job.

“I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job,” Zmuda said at a news conference on March 7. “I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice?”

An attorney for the school acknowledged that school leadership floated the idea that Zmuda could possibly get a divorce to keep his job.

Zmuda’s lawsuit notes that the school previously posted a statement on its website that it does not discriminate based on marital status or sexual orientation but that statement was removed after his dismissal. A similar statement was included in the employee handbook.

“I relied on those statements,” Zmuda said.

Zmuda has said the school’s administrators were aware that he is gay and that he was in a relationship. Administrators asked him not to bring his partner to school functions, according to the lawsuit.

Last month, the Mercer Island, Wash., school district said it had selected Zmuda to fill the job of associate principal at Mercer Island High School, effective July 1.

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