Roncalli Counselor Placed on Leave Over Same-Sex Marriage Files Discrimination Charge

Jan 14, 2019

Shelly Fitzgerald, a Roncalli High School guidance counselor, was placed on paid administrative leave last August after her marriage to a woman became public. Now, she’s filed a discrimination claim against the high school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Fitzgerald took the first step to file a discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School last week. Her lawyer David Page says a lawsuit wouldn’t be for personal gain.

"If this were about dollars and cents this case would probably have a pretty good chance at getting resolved," Page says. "But, it’s about fundamental policy changes that she is seeking in order to ensure others are treated fairly."

Fitzgerald first announced her intention to sue at a press conference in November. There she laid out her requests including Archdiocese of Indianapolis change its contracts for employees by allowing staff to be in same-sex marriages; extend spousal benefits to employees in a same-sex marriage; offer jobs to former LGBT employees fired by the Archdiocese due to the current contract.

“It is my mission to simply convince the Catholic Church and Catholic high schools across the U.S. to implement positive and permanent policy changes that affirm the LGBT+ community,” Fitzgerald said in November.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will review the charge –– this process takes an average of 10 months. If approved, Fitzgerald can file a lawsuit in federal court.

However, commission investigators may also recommend Fitzgerald, Roncalli, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis continue negotiations outside of a courtroom.

Page, Fitzgerald’s lawyer, said in November he anticipates the EEOC will approve the claim.

Fitzgerald's story received national attention after she appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show in September.

In August 2018, she says her marriage certificate was turned over to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School. Officials told Fitzgerald she could dissolve her marriage, resign or quietly finish out her contract.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis released a statement saying neither it nor Roncalli High School discriminated against Fitzgerald.

“Ms. Fitzgerald signed and agreed to a ministerial job description in her employment contract; that she live in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the statement said. “Ms. Fitzgerald has acknowledged that she breached her contract by entering into a marriage that is not valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church.”

At the press conference in November, the newly elected state Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) voiced his support for Fitzgerald. Ford is Indiana’s first openly gay state senator and has voiced support for the LGBT community.

Last week, he filed a bill that would not allow private schools with discriminatory policies to receive school vouchers, which allows some parents to apply public school dollars toward private school tuition.

Roncalli received around $1.5 million of state funds last year in school vouchers.

“If Shelly’s case had anything to do with inspiring that anti-discrimination law … then we consider that a victory of sorts,” Page says.

Shortly after Fitzgerald’s announcement in November, a second Roncalli guidance counselor filed an EEOC discrimination charge against the school and Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

This second counselor Lynn Starkey said in a press release the school principal asked Starkey about her civil union with a woman, and she answered truthfully. The release said as a gay person she feels uncomfortable at Roncalli.

Fitzgerald remains with Roncalli High School on paid administrative leave.