Suit against Chicago Archdiocese by gay worker who was fired can proceed

By The Chicago Tribune

Colin Collette after a meeting with Cardinal Francis George on Sept. 9, 2014.
Colin Collette after a meeting with Cardinal Francis George on Sept. 9, 2014.

A lawsuit by a church employee who was fired after getting engaged to his male partner will move forward after a federal judge rejected the Chicago Archdiocese’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Colin Collette asserts in his lawsuit that his civil rights were violated when he was terminated in 2014 as music director at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, where he had worked for 17 years. Collette sued both the archdiocese and Holy Family, claiming his firing amounted to “intentional” discrimination and seeking reinstatement of his job, lost wages and damages.

In its motion to dismiss the suit, the archdiocese cited what’s called the “ministerial exception,” which restricts employment discrimination claims by church ministers. The motion notes that Collette’s job titles were “director of worship” and “director of music.”

But Judge Charles Kocoras cited case law indicating that a title alone doesn’t determine whether a church employee should be defined as a minister. He ruled that further legal arguments would be needed to determine whether the ministerial exception applies here.

Collette previously told the Tribune that he was “not trying to be anti-Catholic,” in filing the suit.

“This is an issue the church needs to deal with. There are a lot of good people that are hurting,” he said.

Collette’s firing divided the parish. Many members spoke out in support of him; others said the church should not be forced to employ someone who enters into in a marriage not sanctioned by the church. Collette’s suit asserts that many employees, both homosexual and otherwise, are in nonsanctioned marriages.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said the church does not comment on pending litigation.

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