Fourth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Gay Teacher from North Carolina Catholic School

May 8, 2024 12:58 pm

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RICHMOND – The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a discrimination claim brought by a teacher at a North Carolina Catholic school who was fired shortly after announcing his wedding to another man, ruling his role as a teacher was subject to the ministerial exception to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and thus not protected from anti-gay discrimination.

Lonnie Billard worked at Charlotte Catholic High School (CCHS) for more than a decade – both as a full-time drama and as a long-term substitute teacher – and has won numerous teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year. In October 2014, Lonnie wrote a Facebook post announcing that he and his long-time partner were getting married. Later that year, the school told Lonnie he could no longer work as a substitute teacher because his engagement and marriage to another man was contrary to the religious principles of the Catholic Church.

In 2017, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mr. Billard by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Tin Fulton Walker & Owen. On September 3, 2021, a federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Billard, holding that Defendants violated Mr. Billard’s rights under Title VII and that Defendants do not have statutory or constitutional right to engage in sex discrimination against non-ministerial employees. CCHS appealed to the Fourth Circuit arguing Mr. Billard’s role as a teacher was ministerial, an argument the Fourth Circuit agreed with today.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, and Tin Fulton Walker & Owen issued the following joint statement:

“This is a heartbreaking decision for our client who wanted nothing more than the freedom to perform his duties as an educator without hiding who he is or who he loves. Every worker should be entitled to equal protection under the law, and the Supreme Court held as recently as 2020 that this fundamental freedom extends to LGBTQ workers. While today’s decision is narrowly tailored to Mr. Billard and the facts of his employment, it nonetheless threatens to encroach on that principle by widening the loopholes employers may use to fire people like Mr. Billard for openly discriminatory reasons.”



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