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Charlotte Catholic School teacher fired for same-sex marriage announcement files federal suit

Illustration by Nelle Dunlap

Lonnie Billard taught drama and English at Charlotte Catholic High School for more than a decade before he was fired in 2014 for announcing his nuptials to his longtime same-sex partner on Facebook.

He filed a federal lawsuit today that claims his firing violates the Civil Rights Act.

Billard is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Tin Fulton Walker and Owen. In Oct. 2014, he announced his upcoming marriage to his partner, who often accompanied him to school events and was known in the community.

The post read: “Everyone sing along…. ‘Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna’ get maa-aried. Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna’ get maa-aa-ried’. Yes, I’m finally going to make
an honest (at least legal) man out of Rich. We will be married on May 2, 2015… details to
follow. I cannot believe that I am saying this or that it is even possible. I thank all the courageous
people who had more guts than I who refused to back down and accept anything but ‘equal’. Ps.
If you don’t agree with this… keep it to yourself. You never asked my opinion about your
personal life and I am not asking yours.”

Two months later, on Christmas Day 2014, Billard learned of his termination, according to the 9-page lawsuit. He was told he was fired because of the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

On January 9, 2015, the Diocese’s Director of Communications, David Hains (“Hains”), stated publicly that Plaintiff was terminated for “going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Continuing to employ Plaintiff, Hains stated, “would be legitimating that relationship. The church would be saying it’s OK, and it’s not.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, argues that Billard’s firing violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex and other characteristics.

“Lonnie was fired because he announced his marriage to his longtime partner, who is a man, and that is sex discrimination, pure and simple,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “People should not be fired because of who they love. Even though Charlotte Catholic is a private religious school, it cannot illegally discriminate against an employee whose job was not religious.”

Billard said he loved being part of the Charlotte Catholic school community and that the classroom has always felt like home to him.

“I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but I don’t think my commitment to my husband has any bearing on my work in the classroom,” he said. “I have never hidden the fact that I’m gay and my relationship with my partner was no secret at school. But whether or not the school previously knew that I am gay is not the point. People should be able to fall in love and get married without risking their jobs.”

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