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

lynn starkey web.png
Posted at 6:06 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 18:06:11-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal appeals court has dismissed an appeal filed by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School in a lawsuit filed by former Director of Guidance Lynn Starkey.

Starkey filed the lawsuit in July 2019 alleging a hostile work environment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliation under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She also filed for claims alleging the Archdiocese and school interfered with her contractual and employment relationship under state law.

The lawsuit was filed after Starkey alleges the principal of Roncalli High School told her she breached her employment agreement because she was in a same-sex civil union and wouldn't be offered a contract for the next school year.

A federal court denied a motion for judgment and request to dismiss all of Starkey's claims by the Archdiocese and school in October 2020.

The Archdiocese and school filed an appeal and Starkey challenged on jurisdictional grounds. On Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit sided with Starkey and dismissed the appeal.

"Because factual disputes remain to be resolved in the district court, appellate disposition would be premature," three judges wrote in an appeals court order. "And we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction."

The judges cited what a district judge said in their order, which is it is not possible to determine if Starkey should be classified as a minister.

“Whether Starkey’s position was religious in nature or implicated the Church’s ability to govern itself is a factual matter that cannot be decided now,” the district judge previously wrote. “Because the parties dispute what Starkey’s role as a guidance counselor entailed, it is premature to dismiss her claims because they would result in governmental entanglement with religion.”

Kathleen DeLaney, the attorney representing Starkey, said they are pleased by the court's decision.

“We have taken the position throughout the appellate proceedings that the appeal was premature and should never have been filed," DeLaney said in a press release. "We look forward to preparing the case for trial.”

In the press release, Starkey said she is encouraged by the court's ruling and looks forward to the day her case will be heard.

“Although it has been a long process, my resolve in the pursuit of justice remains as strong as it did at the start," Starkey said in the release.

Starkey's lawsuit seeks compensation, emotional distress damages, liquidated and/or punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs in unspecific amounts.

Starkey worked at Roncalli High School for 40 years and served as a guidance counselor for 21 years, according to the release. In 2015, Starkey and her spouse obtained a legal civil union license.

In October 2019, Shelly Fitzgerald, a former guidance counselor at Roncalli High School, filed a federal lawsuit against the school and Archdiocese of Indianapolis after she says she was given three options — resign, dissolve her marriage, or wait it out through the rest of the year, but the school wouldn't renew her contract.