Wrongfully Fired Gay Teacher Wins Lawsuit Against Catholic School

In October 2014, Lonnie Billard announced through social media that he and his longtime partner would be getting married. A couple of weeks after that post, he was told he could no longer teach at Charlotte Catholic High School. An unnamed assistant principal of the school told Billard of his termination.

On January 11, 2017, Billard sued Charlotte Catholic High School and the Diocese of Charlotte in North Carolina. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Billard filed the lawsuit at the district court of the Western District of North Carolina.

According to the 2017 employment discrimination lawsuit Billard filed, he was fired during the Christmas dinner on December 25, 2014. The Diocese of Charlotte ordered Charlotte Catholic High School to end Billard's employment. An unnamed representative of the Charlotte Diocese confirmed Billard's termination publicly, claiming that allowing Billard to continue teaching will translate to the Catholic church "legitimating that relationship."

More than four years later, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled on September 3, 2021, in Billard's favor. According to the ruling, both the Charlotte Catholic High School and the Diocese of Charlotte were in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which provides federal protections against sex discrimination in the workplace.

Billard, now 73-years old, received a summary judgment from Judge Cogburn. However, Judge Cogburn insisted that a trial must still be held to assess appropriate damage relief for him. Judge Cogburn, in his ruling, explained that Billard is a non-religious employee whose job description does not include any "mandate to inculcate students with Catholic teachings." He added that the constitutional rights to religious freedom do not cover Charlotte Catholic High School's decision to terminate Billard's employment.

In a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, Billard, a once "teacher of the year" awardee at Charlotte Catholic High School, expressed his relief at the court's decision. "After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained to teach all this time," Billard stated. He added that the court's ruling" validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man."

In a statement to The Charlotte Observer, a representative of the Diocese of Charlotte expressed his disagreement with the ruling. The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte blatantly expressed their dissatisfaction with Judge Cogburn's order and insisted that "They (the law) should not compel religious schools to employ teachers who publicly contradict their teachings."

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