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Exemptions with landmark Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ protections

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 17:56:26-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A historic ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday offers protection against discrimination in the workplace for LGBTQ Americans. Many members of that community said it is a big step forward but certain exemptions mean they still may not be protected in religious organizations.

It's something we've seen here in Indiana, members of the LGBTQ community losing their job at religious-affiliated workplaces because of their sexual orientation or identity. It happened at Cathedral High School, at Roncalli High School. Both schools are affiliated with the Catholic Church so we asked law experts what this ruling could mean for cases similar to those.

"The direct answer to that is nothing," Dr. Jennifer Drobac said.

Drobac is a professor at the IU McKinney School of Law. She said Monday's Supreme Court ruling offers protection for the LGBTQ community for some positions at religious organizations but not all.

"It depends on the definition of the job and what exactly is going on with the particular teacher, worker — is that person advancing the religious mission of the organization," Drobac said.

According to Drobac, some could argue teachers and counselors are while other positions like a cook or custodian are not.

"The church employer cannot discriminate against those employees," Drobac said.

Drobac said although there is the religious exemption this is still something that will offer new protection for millions of LGBTQ workers.

Luke Goodrich, VP and senior counsel at Becket, the law firm representing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, released the following statement:

The Supreme Court went out of its way to emphasize that religious organizations have multiple, overlapping protections for their right to hire individuals who agree with their core religious beliefs and practices. And that makes sense: If the leaders of a religious school reject core teachings of the faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its religious mission. Thus, we fully expect the courts to protect the Archdiocese’s freedom to hire leaders who agree with its religious beliefs and support its religious mission.

WRTV also reached out to Shelly Fitzgerald, a former Roncalli counselor. She declined an interview on Tuesday, but said she is still fighting for change.

Fitzgerald, who is in a same-sex marriage, was fired after someone found her marriage certificate and gave it to school officials. After she was fired from Roncalli, the Catholic Church claimed her same-sex marriage stood against her contract and church belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Fitzgerald said she plans to speak with the media after learning more about the religious ministerial exemption.