Catholic League: Lawsuit filed by openly gay teacher is 'bogus' - | WBTV Charlotte

Catholic League: Lawsuit filed by openly gay teacher is 'bogus'

Former teacher Lonnie Billard is suing after he says he was fired for announcing plans to marry his same-sex partner (Photo provided by the ACLU) Former teacher Lonnie Billard is suing after he says he was fired for announcing plans to marry his same-sex partner (Photo provided by the ACLU)

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights fired back Friday after a former teacher sued Charlotte Catholic alleging discrimination, calling the suit "bogus."

Lonnie Billard filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning in federal court claiming the school, Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools (MACS) system, and the diocese discriminated against him, violating his civil rights. Billard says he was fired after announcing his plans to marry his longtime same-sex partner.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

"Lonnie Billard knew when he 'married' his boyfriend, making it public on his Facebook page, that Charlotte Catholic High School, his employer, would object. He sued when he was fired and is now seeking back pay and benefits, punitive damages, and compensatory damages for emotional distress. He is represented by the ACLU, an organization which is at war with the Catholic Church," Catholic League said in a statement Friday.

According to the lawsuit, Billard taught drama and English at Charlotte Catholic for more than a decade, both full-time and as a long-term substitute teacher. 

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In the lawsuit, Billard said he'd been living with his longtime partner, Richard Donham, since 2002. Donham reportedly attended school functions with Billard and "their relationship was common knowledge among the school's students, parents, alumni, staff, and administration."

In October 2014, after marriage for same-sex couples was legalized in North Carolina, Billard announced his plan to marry Donham on Facebook. Billard said he received no negative feedback about the post.

Two months later, on Christmas Day, Billard said he and Donham were at a dinner with Charlotte Catholic alumni and employees when he was informed by a coworker the school's assistant principal told her Billard could no longer serve as a substitute at the school.

Billard, according to the lawsuit, text the assistant principal several days later asking about his status and received a phone call a few minutes later saying "the Diocese had instructed him that the school could no longer employ [Billard] because he announced on Facebook his intention to marry a same-sex partner."

Catholic League calls the suit "bogus on several counts."

"The First Amendment protects religious liberty, allowing religious schools to practice the tenets of their faith. The lawsuit does not cite a violation of state law, and that is because no North Carolina law was broken," Catholic League says. ?


David Hains, the Director of Communication for the Diocese of Charlotte, responded to the lawsuit Wednesday morning.

"The Diocese of Charlotte does not typically discuss ongoing litigation," Hains. "At this time, we have not seen the lawsuit.”

But according to the lawsuit, Hains "stated publicly that [Billard] 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."

Hain continued to say that employing Billard "would be legitimating that relationship. The church would be saying it's OK, and it's not," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that Billard’s firing violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 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.”

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