April 2, 2016
The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph agreed to a settlement on Feb. 22, 2016, with a former church employee who claimed that she was terminated once her same-sex marriage was announced. While the specific amount was not disclosed, Colleen Simon asked for lost wages, benefits, punitive sanctions and compensation for mental anguish. Simon claimed that her superiors at St. Francis Xavier Church knew about her sexual preference and marital status and had told her that it was not a problem. However, once her marriage to her partner was publicized in the Kansas City Star in April 2014, she was terminated within two weeks.
Even so, the diocese was not unhappy with the ruling as the judge did not hear arguments of alleged fraud regarding the statements made by the priests about her sexual orientation. The judge did not want to insert the court into decisions that he felt were best left to the church to decide. Attorneys for the diocese emphasized their belief that the church be allowed to make hiring decisions without court involvement.
One of the attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit group that represented the diocese, expressed his view that the judge would have crossed over the line into questions of First Amendment rights. He added that the church does not need to hire anyone who does not comply with the church’s beliefs.
After the judge refused to address matters of overtime or of how her employment intersected with state law, the diocese proposed a settlement. They did not want a jury to hear about the case in open court. Her lawyer also stated their relief that the case was resolved and that the judge’s ruling affirmed the rights of church workers to seek justice in court.
Simon, who worked at the diocese as a food pantry coordinator, has secured a new position at Journey to New Life, a nonprofit organization that helps inmates transition back into the community.
The courts continue to redefine the line between religious freedom and personal liberty, especially when it comes to employment at a house of faith. If you have suffered employment discrimination due to your religion, call our law firm for assistance.