Guidance counselor sues Roncalli, Indianapolis archdiocese

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

A second teacher is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, claiming she was subjected to a hostile work environment and discrimination because she is a lesbian and married to another woman.

Lynn Starkey filed a complaint Monday in the Southern Indiana District Court against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School. She had worked at Roncalli for 39 years, including 21 years as a guidance counselor, and received Teacher of the Year recognition in 2009. However, after she confirmed to the school principal that she was in a same-sex marriage, she was informed she had breached her employment contract and would not be offered an employment contract for the 2019-2020 school year.

“I dedicated my professional career to Roncalli,” Starkey said in a statement. “To be treated this way after 39 years has been devastating to me. I look forward to pursuing justice through my case.”

Responding to the lawsuit, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis maintained to accomplish its mission of teaching the Catholic faith, it asks the teachers, administrators and guidance counselors in its schools to uphold the teachings by word and action.

“As head guidance counselor, Ms. Starkey signed a contract acknowledging her role as a leader and committing to promote Catholic teaching, including the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage,” the Archdiocese said. “She knowingly violated that contract by entering a same-sex civil union — making clear that she disagrees with the Church’s teaching on marriage and will not be able to uphold and model it for her students. Thus, her lawsuit is clearly barred by (U.S.) Supreme Court precedent.”

Starkey is being represented by Kathleen DeLaney of DeLaney & DeLaney LLC in Indianapolis.

This is the second lawsuit filed this summer against the Indianapolis Archdiocese by a teacher. Joshua Payne-Elliot filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court after his contract at Cathedral High School was not renewed because he is in a same-sex marriage. DeLaney is also representing him.

Starkey is asserting Roncalli and the Archdiocese violated Title VII by discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation and by retaliating against her after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also, in Lynn Starkey v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc. and Roncalli High School, Inc., 1:19-cv-3153, she claims she was retaliated against in violation of Title VII and Title IX.

Starkey contends she has suffered damages including lost pay, loss of future earning capacity, and loss of employer-provided benefits as well as emotional distress including mental anguish, pain and suffering.

According to her complaint, Starkey became concerned about her employment after her colleague, Shelly Fitzgerald, was removed from her job in August 2018 because she also, is in a same-sex marriage. A short time later, Starkey was then asked about her marital status by Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach.

She told the principal she had a same-sex spouse.

Fearing she would be targeted next, Starkey filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC in November against the Archdiocese and Roncalli. In May 2019, she received a letter starting her contract would not be renewed for the following school year because her “civil union is a violation (of her) contract and contrary to the teach of the Catholic Church.”

While she worked at Roncalli, Starkey claims she had no ministerial functions. Her job did not include any religious duties nor was she required to perform any important religious functions for the church. She was not required to be a Catholic, attend mass or make a financial contribution to the church.

The defendants’ actions, according to the complaint, caused Starkey to suffer physical and emotion problems. She had to take leave from her job twice during the 2018-2019 school year to receive medical and mental health treatment.

Starkey is seeking compensatory damages, emotional distress damages and punitive damages along with attorney’s fees and costs.

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