CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A former Teacher of the Year who was fired from Charlotte Catholic High School after announcing on Facebook that he was marrying his longtime same-sex partner filed a federal lawsuit today that says his firing violates the Civil Rights Act.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen on behalf of Lonnie Billard, who taught drama and English at Charlotte Catholic for more than a decade, both full-time and as a long-term substitute teacher. In 2012, Billard was named the school’s Teacher of the Year after being nominated by students.
In October 2014 Billard wrote a Facebook post announcing his upcoming nuptials to his long-time partner, who often accompanied Lonnie to school events and was known in the community. Later that year, Billard was told he was terminated because of the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
“I loved being part of the Charlotte Catholic school community, and the classroom has always felt like home to me,” Billard said. “I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but I don’t think my commitment to my husband has any bearing on my work in the classroom. I have never hidden the fact that I’m gay and my relationship with my partner was no secret at school. But whether or not the school previously knew that I am gay is not the point. People should be able to fall in love and get married without risking their jobs.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, argues that Billard’s firing violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex and other characteristics.
“Lonnie was fired because he announced his marriage to his longtime partner, who is a man, and that is sex discrimination, pure and simple,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “People should not be fired because of who they love. Even though Charlotte Catholic is a private religious school, it cannot illegally discriminate against an employee whose job was not religious.”