The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 27th

Former Charlotte Catholic teacher sues school for anti-gay discrimination

The teacher, Lonnie Billard, posted on Facebook in 2014 about his plans to marry his long-time partner, Rich Donham. Billard said he taught at Charlotte Catholic for 14 years, and had been with Donham for about 15 years.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 11 on Billard’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

Chris Brook, the legal director of the state ACLU, said private employers cannot fire individuals because of their sexual orientation.

“Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and that includes prohibition on firing individuals on the basis of sex stereotyping,” he said.

Billard said he was the subject of unfair discrimination.

“I posted on Facebook that Rich and I were going to get married,” he said. “Within a week, another teacher had posted that she and her boyfriend were going to get married. She did not get fired, but I did. That’s discrimination.”

The school had been OK with the relationship prior to his announcement that he and Donham were going to marry, Billard said.

“Rich accompanied me to all the faculty events we went to,” Billard said. “He was a presence at the plays that I directed, and that kind of thing. ”

Charlotte Catholic High School declined to comment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has doctrines against same-sex marriage but affirms that individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex deserve respect.

Billard, who is not Catholic, said the Church can stand by its beliefs about gay marriage.

“But I wasn’t performing in a religious capacity; I was performing in a secular capacity,” he said.

Billard said there were other teachers at the school who violated Catholic doctrines, including those regarding divorce, and that the school allows non-Catholic teachers.

Brook said exemptions under Title VII do not apply to this case because Billard’s responsibilities were secular.

“Of course the Catholic Church would have the right to hire clergy that subscribe to and follow their religious doctrine across the board, but that’s just not the case here,” he said.

David Hains, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Charlotte, said in an email that the Diocese had not received the lawsuit and would not comment.

Brook said Billard should be judged based on his performance as a teacher, not based on whom he loves.

“His work in the classroom was exemplary,” he said. “He was nominated every year that he was a full-time teacher at Charlotte Catholic for the Teacher of the Year award.”



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