Faith Overruled

Illegal firing


Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, exists to provide a private Catholic education to teenage girls. The Church's positions on social and political matters therefore influence its education and employment practices.

In 2012, Matthew Barrett found out the hard way just how seriously it takes those positions. Barrett had accepted a job as food services director for Fontbonne, but the school subsequently rescinded the offer. The reason? While filling out paperwork, Barrett gave the name of his husband as a contact for emergency situations, thus disclosing that he was gay and married to a man.

Barrett, represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, sued the school. Massachusetts has laws against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but private religious institutions and schools are typically exempt from these laws when they contradict church teachings. Fontbonne fought the lawsuit on the basis of its right to the free expression of its faith.

In December a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled against the school. Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins found that while religious organizations do indeed enjoy some exemptions from the state's anti-discrimination laws, in order to qualify they must "limit membership, enrollment, admission or participation to members of that religion." Not all Fontbonne's students and staff are Catholic. Wilkins also found that there was "minimal risk" the school would be perceived as endorsing Barrett's marriage by hiring him given that the dispute wasn't over a teaching or administrative position.