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Federal judge sides with Roncalli in lawsuit involving former employee

lynn starkey web.png
Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 18:35:15-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge has sided with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School in a lawsuit filed in 2019 by former Co-Director of Guidance Lynn Starkey.

In the filing Wednesday, Roncalli argued that Starkey was a minister for purposes of the First Amendment’s ministerial exception, which “arose from this understanding of the First Amendment: 'Under this rule, courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions within churches and other religious institutions.""

The court agreed with Roncalli, saying Starkey qualified as a minister, and that exception barrs all of her claims.

“According to the contract, Starkey agreed that she would be in default if she breached any duty, which included "relationships that are contrary to a valid marriage as seen through the eyes of the Catholic Church,” the filing read. “The Catholic Church defines marriage as a "covenant" "by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love."

MORE: Court says former Roncalli High School counselor's case can continue

Starkey's attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, says the school notified her in March 2019 that her same-sex marriage was a "breach" and they would not be renewing her contract for the 2019-2020 school year. Instead, they will be terminating her employment at the end of the spring 2019 semester.

In her lawsuit, Starkey alleged a hostile work environment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliation under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The ministerial exception is not limited to claims of religious discrimination; it bars all claims of discrimination under Title VII, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the court filing read. “Here, the decision to not renew Starkey's employment contract goes to the heart of the church's right to ‘select and control who will minister to the faithful.’”

DeLaney released the following statement Wednesday:

“We are disappointed with the Court’s ruling. We are concerned about its potential impact on not just our client, but on other educators working for religious schools. We are considering an appeal and evaluating our options," DeLaney said.

“Today’s ruling is common sense: religious groups have a constitutional right to hire people who agree with their religious beliefs and practices,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, the law firm who represented the Archdiocese. “At all levels of the judiciary, courts have made clear that the government has no place interfering with a religious organization’s decision about who can pass on the faith to the next generation.”

WRTV reached out to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for comment, who referred us to Goodrich’s statement.