Former Cathedral teacher sues Archdiocese of Indianapolis over firing

A teacher who was fired from his job at a Catholic high school because he's in a same-sex marriage is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for interfering in his teaching contract.

The teacher, Joshua Payne-Elliott, sued the archdiocese Wednesday in Marion County court, seeking unspecified compensatory, emotional distress and other damages.

Payne-Elliott's attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, said in a written statement that Payne-Elliott taught at Cathedral High School for 13 years and that Cathedral renewed his annual teaching contract on May 21. But, on June 23, Cathedral's president told him he was being fired on orders of the archdiocese.

According to the lawsuit, Payne-Elliott has been in a same-sex marriage since 2017 with a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.

The archdiocese last month ordered Brebeuf to fire Payne-Elliott’s spouse, Layton Payne-Elliott, but Brebeuf refused the order. As a result, the archdiocese said it would no longer recognize Brebeuf as Catholic.

Cathedral received the same directive from the archdiocese and followed it on June 23. In the suit, Payne-Elliott said Cathedral President Robert Bridges told him he was a “very good teacher” who was only being fired because of the order from the archdiocese.

DeLaney announced Tuesday that Payne-Elliott and Cathedral had reached a settlement in which Cathedral would help Payne-Elliott with future employment options. In it, Payne-Elliott thanked Cathedral for the opportunities and experiences that he has had teaching there and said he does not wish the school any harm. Cathedral thanked the teacher for the years of service, contributions, and achievements.

It wasn't clear whether a monetary settlement was included.

Payne-Elliott’s suit against the archdiocese seeks compensatory damages for lost earnings, loss of future earning capacity, emotional distress and reputational injury. It also seeks punitive damages and legal fees.

The archdiocese said in a statement that the U.S. Constitution allows religious organizations to define what conduct is unacceptable for employees.

"In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis' Catholic schools, all teachers, school leaders and guidance counselors are ministers and witnesses of the faith, who are expected to uphold the teachings of the Church in their daily lives, both in and out of school," the archdiocese said.

Payne-Elliott also has filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the archdiocese discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination, the news release said.

"We intend to hold the Archdiocese accountable for violations of state and federal law," DeLaney said.

Speaking for his family, Joshua Payne-Elliott said, "We hope that this case will put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families."

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