Former Eastside Catholic School vice principal Mark Zmuda’s lawsuit against the school and the Archdiocese of Seattle will continue. On May 23 in King County Superior Court, Judge Catherine Shaffer rejected an effort by the school and archdiocese to dismiss the suit.
Shaffer denied dismissal on all counts.
Zmuda, who was terminated by Eastside Catholic in December 2013 for marrying his same sex partner, has since been hired as the vice-principal at Mercer Island High School.
Zmuda is suing Eastside Catholic for discrimination, breach of contract and violation of the consumer protection act. The Archdiocese of Seattle is being sued for tortious interference with business expectancy.
Mike Patterson, the attorney for Eastside Catholic, argued that the First Amendment recognizes the rights of religious organizations. He said the issue was about same sex marriage, not a gender or race issue. Patterson said Zmuda’s decision to marry his partner was clearly in opposition to the Vatican’s stance against same sex marriage.
“Eastside Catholic gave Mr. Zmuda an employee handbook when he was hired, then an updated handbook in June 2013,” Patterson said. “The handbook is now part and parcel of this complaint.”
Patterson said Zmuda clearly understood what the requirements were at Eastside Catholic. When asked about the anti-discriminatory language on the school’s website, which disappeared shortly after Zmuda’s termination, he said the handbook took precedent over the website.
Patterson had been representing both Eastside Catholic and the Archdiocese, but Michael Reilly with Lane Powell now represents the Archdiocese. Only the count of tortious interference applies to the Archdiocese.
Reilly cited case law that he said supported the Archdiocese’s right to articulate Catholic doctrine.
“The Archdiocese had the constitutional right to speak on this subject,” Reilly said.
Zmuda’s attorney, Rick Friedman, said people in our country are free to think, free to be who they are. He said the defendants are in essence saying “you don’t even have the right to challenge First Amendment rights.”
“The only reason Mr. Zmuda was fired was because he was gay and married his partner,” Friedman said. “Would the Archbishop fire a Catholic’s secretary because she was on birth control?”
In rebuttal Patterson said what Zmuda wanted “is for us to celebrate his marriage.”
Shaffer said she didn’t think that was the case. She read and considered all the arguments and case law.
Shaffer said the court accepted as true that:
“Eastside Catholic hired Zmuda to act as a vice-principal in 2012, his duties being purely administrative. He is gay, and he neither concealed or volunteered his sexual preference. Eastside Catholic came to suspect he was a gay man. He told them he was and that he was in a committed relationship. He was given a raise. In July 2013 he married his partner. In November 2013 administrators at the school confronted him about his martial status. He was asked to divorce his partner. He was fired for marrying his partner, not for being gay. I must presume Mr. Zmuda’s statements are true.”
Shaffer said she could not accept Eastside Catholic’s argument.
“The Federal and Supreme Courts have made it clear that an employee can sue regardless of ministerial doctrine,” Shaffer said.
She said she would base her decision on secular law.
After the hearing, an Eastside Catholic parent who was present, who only wanted to be identified as Deborah, found it interesting that no board members or administrators from Eastside Catholic were at the hearing, willing to show their faces and say this is wrong.
“I think the school should be standing up for their three touchstones, academic excellence, relationships and servant leadership, and stand up to the church,” Deborah said. “Firing one of our best administrators one week before Christmas is not within their values.”