Former Roncalli counselor to appeal ruling for Archdiocese to 7th Circuit

Lynn Starkey, the Roncalli High School counselor who was fired for being in a same-sex marriage, is planning to appeal Wednesday’s ruling in federal court that found the ministerial exception barred her discrimination claims.

Having worked at Roncalli for more than 30 years, Starkey filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the high school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after she was suddenly terminated in 2019. She alleged, in part, discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment under Title VII because she is a lesbian and married to another woman.

However, Southern Indiana District Court Judge Richard Young agreed with the Archdiocese  that Starkey’s duties included ministering the Catholic faith to the students. As such, her position fell within the ministerial exception which prohibits the government from interfering in employment disputes.

“Here, the decision to not renew Starkey’s employment contract goes to the heart of the church’s right to ‘select and control who will minister to the faithful,” Young wrote, citing Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. V. E.E.O.C., 565 U.S. 171, 194-95 (2012). r, 565 U.S. at 194-94.

Starkey plans to appeal the ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to her attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, managing partner at DeLaney & DeLaney in Indianapolis.

“Lynn Starkey is disappointed with the ruling and is concerned about the potential impact on educators in Catholic schools as well as students who are part of the LGBTQ community,” DeLaney said in a statement.

The Archdiocese is represented by Becket Law, a nonprofit legal and educational organization focused on religious freedom. Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said the district court’s ruling aligns with precedent.

“(Wednesday’s) ruling is common sense: religious groups have a constitutional right to hire people who agree with their religious beliefs and practices,” Goodrich said in a press release. “At all levels of the judiciary, courts have made clear that the government has no place interfering with a religious organization’s decision about who can pass on the faith to the next generation.”

Most recently, the 7th Circuit upheld the ministerial exception in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, 19-2142.

The decision seemed to have the potential to directly impact three lawsuits brought by former teachers, including Starkey, against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  However, the 7th Circuit swatted away an attempt to use the ruling to short circuit Starkey’s litigation.

The case is Lynn Starkey v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School, Inc., 1:19-cv-03153.

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