A former Charlotte Catholic school teacher who claimed he was fired for being gay has filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer, saying his firing violates the Civil Rights Act.
In 2012, Lonnie
Billard was named Charlotte Catholic’s Teacher of the Year. He taught
English and ran the school’s theatre department before scaling back to
work as a long-term substitute.
The lawsuit, filed on Billard’s
behalf by the ACLU and the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen claims
that his firing violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which
prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis
of sex and other characteristics.
Billard announced on his
Facebook page in October of 2014 that he and his partner Rich were
planning to get married in 2015.
According to Billard, it wasn’t long
before he was relieved of his duties.
“I got a call telling me I
would not be allowed to teach anymore,” Billard told our sister
affiliate WCNC. “As it was explained to me that because I had posted on
Facebook to my friends that my longtime partner Rich — Rich and I were
going to get married this spring. Apparently there were a couple of
teachers that were unhappy with that.”
David Hains, spokesperson
for The Charlotte Roman Catholic Church Diocese, the organization that
oversees Charlotte Catholic, says Billard was fired because he went
against teachings of the Catholic Church.
“Well, the Catholic
Church opposes same-sex unions,” Hains said in a statement. “Marriage
can only be between one man and one woman. He’s not being picked on
because he’s gay. He lost his job as a substitute teacher because he
broke a promise because he chose to oppose church teaching, something he
promised he would not do.”
Billard said at the time of his
employment, most people at the school knew he and Rich were a gay
couple, with Rich often coming to school events.
“I loved being
part of the Charlotte Catholic school community, and the classroom has
always felt like home to me,” Billard said. “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. 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.”