Indiana Catholic School Fires Straight Employee Who Supported Lesbian Coworkers

A social worker in Indianapolis who identifies as straight said she lost her job at a Catholic high school for publicly supporting two former colleagues who are lesbians.

Kelley Fisher worked at Roncalli High for 15 years, and was an employee of Catholic Charities, according to the Indianapolis Star. She’s filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming school and archdiocese officials retaliated against her because she publicly supported former guidance counselors Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey.

Both women are lesbians, and both are married to women.

Fisher said two of her public posts on Facebook showed support for the women, and called for the archdiocese to change the language of employee contracts, which prohibits the employment of people who violate church teachings, including same-sex marriage.

One of those posts included part of a letter she’d written and sent to Roncalli and archdiocese officials in August 2018. She wrote in support of Fitzgerald, who was fired last year after the church learned of her same-sex marriage.

“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher told the newspaper. The archdiocese, she said, is “trying to say anyone who works for a Catholic school, that we are ministerial employees, and yet I have no training in it, I’m not a priest, I’m not a minister, and they have tried to say I have had training and I am a minister.”

The archdiocese told the Star it has a constitutional right to “hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.”

“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation,” the archdiocese said. “To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action, both inside and outside the classroom.”

Fitzgerald had started at Roncalli just a year before Fisher. Starkey, who is also married to a woman, had worked at the high school for 39 years. She was fired in May and filed a discrimination lawsuit, according to NBC News. Starkey’s suit, filed in July, alleges Roncalli leaders created a hostile work environment for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff. Fitzgerald filed her suit in federal court last week, claiming she was fired because of anti-gay discrimination.

According to the Star, Fisher said Archbishop Charles Thompson told her that if she publicly supported Fitzgerald or Starkey, she’d be going against the Catholic Church.

In April, Fisher learned she would not be returning to Roncalli, and decided to send an email to colleagues informing them it was because of her support for Fitzgerald and Starkey.

She was fired in May, and that email was reportedly cited as the reason for her termination. Fisher told the Star her superiors informed her she was fired because of her email in support for Fitzgerald and Starkey.

In Fisher’s EEOC filing, she said her bosses claimed she “engaged in conduct that is adversarial to the school, i.e. public postings about the guidance department’s dysfunction.” Fisher said they believed her advocacy to be disruptive to her department, and because they feared she’d be a witness in the suits brought by her former coworkers.

Employees who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity said they feared retaliation if they were seen supporting any of the fired employees or causes that could be seen as a violation of Church teaching.

One employee said they avoided any event or place that could be considered pro-LGBTQ. The worker turned down an invitation to visit a gay bar with friends, fearing they might be seen there, or in a snapshot. This employee chose to take photos at a friend’s same-sex wedding, rather than appear in them, just in case. Just attending the wedding was a difficult decision, they said.

“I ended up risking it,” they said, “and I did feel like it was a risk.”

Despite the atmosphere, described by several colleagues as “crazy” and “stressful,” Fisher said she had no intention to leave Roncalli. She said she’d have stayed for her students.

“What would happen to them,” she said, “if they didn’t have a safe place?”