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Gay teacher files suit, claiming his sexual orientation cost him his job

Michael Gordon, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in News & Features

On Christmas Day, according to the complaint, Billard learned that he had lost his job as a substitute. An assistant principal later told him that the diocese had ordered his "termination" due to the Facebook post, the suit said. On Jan. 9, Hains told Charlotte media that Billard had been let go "for going on Facebook, entering in a same-sex relationship and saying in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church."

The diocese, an outspoken supporter of traditional marriage, had cited similar reasons two years earlier after the firing of Steav Bates-Congdon, a longtime music director at St. Gabriel Church, who posted photos from his out-of-state, same-sex marriage on his Facebook page.

ACLU State Legal Director Chris Brook says in this case religious organizations are not immune from the ban against workplace sex discrimination outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

"The school has a right to its religious beliefs," he told the Observer. "It does not have the right to ignore Title VII."

Billard said his adherence to Catholic doctrine "was never a part of the employment process."

"I was interviewed about my qualifications to be in the classroom. There was absolutely nothing said about 'Are you gay or are you straight?' Although it didn't take very long for people to figure that out," he said. "In the classroom, there was nothing about the Catholic religion. I taught the curriculum. I taught what was in the books."

Brook argues that other employees of the school violate Catholic teachings about divorce and other spiritual matters. "Lonnie was the only one fired."

According to the lawsuit, Billard filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2015. The agency said Billard had a right to sue last Nov. 30.

Given the diocese's outspoken support for the state's former ban on same-sex marriage, Billard was asked if he had any concerns posting his wedding plans when that ban was still in place.

"Did I think they would be delighted? No," Billard said. "But I didn't see how that had anything to do with my job. I wasn't working for a church. In my mind, I was working for a school."

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