Catholic school, gay man settle discrimination lawsuit
A man who lost a job offer from a Catholic high school when administrators learned he was in a same-sex marriage has received a settlement in the case, his lawyers announced Monday.
The settlement comes almost five months after a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled that Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls school in Milton, had discriminated against Matthew Barrett by rescinding its job offer for a food service position in 2013. School officials withdrew the offer after learning that Barrett had listed his husband as an emergency contact on an employee form.
The school had argued it was exempt from the state's nondiscrimination laws because of its religious beliefs, notably the Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage.
The confidential settlement means the school will not appeal the December court ruling, which legal specialists described as the first of its kind.
Barrett, 45, who will receive an undisclosed amount of money in the settlement, said he was thankful his legal ordeal is over.
"It's just a relief to have this off our shoulders," he said. "We've gone through a lot and we're happy it's behind us now. We just hope it doesn't happen to someone else."
Ben Klein, a lawyer with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) who represented Barrett in the case, said the settlement means the ruling against Fontbonne Academy stands, creating an important legal precedent that bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of religious conviction.
"This is a case that there was not a factual dispute about whether discrimination occurred, but whether they had a permissible reason," Klein said. "They do not."
Klein said he expected the case to have broad and lasting implications.
"This is the first case in the country to rule that an employer has no religious justification for discrimination," Klein said. "Everyone deserves to be treated on their merits, and not based on whom they love or any other protective category."
In a statement, Fontbonne Academy said it was pleased that the lawsuit had been resolved.
"Fontbonne Academy expresses deep gratitude to Mr. Barrett for his willingness to come together with us in a spirit of conciliation, and wishes him well as the school moves ahead in its mission to foster educational excellence and social justice in an open and inclusive community," the school said in a statement.
In court filings, the school's attorneys had argued that hiring Barrett "would be inconsistent with both the teachings of the Catholic Church and its own policy that all employees are models for the students."
But in his ruling, Superior Court Judge Douglas H. Wilkins rejected that argument.
"Requiring Fontbonne to retain a food service director who has done nothing more than list a same-sex husband as an emergency contact does not significantly and seriously burden Fontbonne's expressive situation," Wilkins wrote.
In December, the decision was blasted by the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, which called it "a frontal assault on religious freedom" and "an appalling subordination of the First Amendment to the Massachusetts gay rights law."
But Klein said the ruling demonstrated that "discrimination cannot go unanswered."
"Matt had the courage to step forward and fight an injustice and the court ultimately vindicated him," he said. "We hope it's a message to others."
Barrett, who lives in Dorchester and was raised Catholic, said he's happy to put everything behind him.
"You can't discriminate and that's what they did," Barrett said. "That's why these laws are here: To protect us."