Former teacher decides to end litigation against Indianapolis Archdiocese

Joshua Payne-Elliott, the former Cathedral High School teacher who sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis after he lost his job for being in a same-sex marriage, has decided to end his litigation even though the Indiana Supreme Court gave him the opportunity to continue.

In August, the Indiana Supreme Court found the archdiocese’s employment decisions were protected from state interference by the church-autonomy doctrine. However, the justices modified the judgment to reflect the dismissal was without prejudice, which provided Payne-Elliott the option to refile his lawsuit.

The teacher told Indiana Lawyer he is refocusing his efforts.

“I remain deeply disappointed that religious schools, which receive millions in tax-payer dollars, are allowed to discriminate against their LGBTQ teachers and staff,” Payne-Elliott said in a written statement released by his attorneys at DeLaney & DeLaney. “I have decided to end my lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. But I will continue to work to ensure that all persons are treated with dignity and respect and that the rights of our LGBTQ neighbors are protected.”

The case is Joshua Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc., 22S-CP-302.

Payne-Elliott is the second LGBTQ teacher to stop fighting the archdiocese in court. Lynn Starkey, a former guidance counselor at Roncalli High School, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the archdiocese after, like Payne-Elliott, she was fired for being in a same-sex marriage.

Starkey filed her complaint in federal court but lost on the ministerial exception grounds in both the Indiana Southern District Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Through her attorney, Kathleen Delaney of DeLaney & DeLaney, Starkey said she was disappointed by the outcome of her litigation and planned to keep advocating that “government funding not go to private schools that engage in discrimination.”

Michelle “Shelly” Fitzgerald is still determining her next step.

The former Roncalli High School guidance counselor, like Payne-Elliott and Starkey, lost her job for being in a same-sex marriage. She pursued a discrimination lawsuit against the archdiocese but saw the case dismissed Sept. 30 by the Indiana Southern District Court.

Her attorneys told Indiana Lawyer that she is still deciding whether to appeal to the 7th Circuit. According to the federal court’s online docket system, a notice of appeal has not been filed.

Payne-Elliott filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court in July 2019. He asserted the archdiocese intentionally interfered with the contractual and employment relationship between him and Cathedral High School.

For 13 years, he had worked at Cathedral as a world language and social studies teacher and had already renewed his contract to teach during the 2019-2020 school year. Yet, in June 2019, the school terminated Payne-Elliott’s employment because of the archdiocese’s directive against same-sex marriages.

Cathedral told Payne-Elliott that the directive “feels like a gun to our head.” The archdiocese had threatened to remove Cathedral’s recognition as Catholic which could have led to the school losing its tax-exempt status.

After the trial court dismissed Payne-Elliot’s lawsuit, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed. In November 2021, an unanimous appellate panel ruled that Special Judge Lance Hamner erred in finding the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and the plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

At the Supreme Court, only four justices heard the case. Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush recused herself without explanation.

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8 thoughts on “Former teacher decides to end litigation against Indianapolis Archdiocese

  1. Nice guy. Bad decision to allow discrimination if you’re taking public money. And the claim that Fitzgerald was in a ministerial position is just a ruse to allow discrimination. The only teachers in a ministerial position are the religion teachers. QED

  2. Catholic schools have had LGBTQ teachers for years

    Left unclear is why a church rife with abuse scandals amongst their ordained ministers decided that going after their lay teachers was the best course of action, or the solution to the problem.

    1. Its obvious that the LGBTQ teachers you’re referring to, knew how to keep their private lives separate from the church. If its exposed in the public, then they’ll react. Guess they can either find jobs that don’t have such requirements or follow the rules. Like it or not, religious organizations have rights to. A gay person doesn’t have to seek employment at these places. Why go anywhere that’s clearly against you?

    2. In one of the cases a parent did a records search and turned the counselor in.

      And in my experience the “friend” of the teacher came on a field trip with us. No issues.

      You are correct, the Catholic Church can redefine their rules and decide that everyone in the building – including the janitor – is a religious minister. (Which at Cathedral of all places is … an ironic position to take.)

      And they can run their school as they see fit. But those who don’t agree with their positions have legitimate issues with their tax dollars going to a place like that.

      By taking public money you open yourself up to public accountability.

  3. Excellent. Maybe these LGBTQ+++ obsessed people and their acolytes will learn to read contracts and acknowledge having to abide by the writing therein before signing them.

    1. Bob P., you are such an easy target to counter-point. Contracts that have an illegal premise are not enforceable. How about you write a contract that says if you marry a Black person, you will be terminated?

    2. I don’t know that this is illegal Raannndy! It’s a religious group with beliefs. If they believe it’s morally wrong to be gay, then that is their belief. It’s not for me or you to decide for them.

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