SEATTLE — A gay vice principal who was forced out of his job at Eastside Catholic School filed a discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against the school and church on Friday. Lawyers for the church and school planned to respond immediately with a motion arguing King County Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case without violating the First Amendment.
The case has stirred debate at the school and in front of the Seattle Archdiocese and has led to several online petitions arguing for reinstatement of the popular teacher, coach and administrator and calling for a change in church doctrine on gay marriage.
The school and the church decided Mark Zmuda couldn’t continue in his job after they learned he had married his same-sex partner. They cited an employment agreement Zmuda had signed that said his public behaviors would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. An attorney for the school acknowledged that school leadership floated the idea that Zmuda could possibly get a divorce to keep his job.
“I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job,” Zmuda said at a news conference Friday. “I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice?”
The lawsuit Zmuda filed in King County Superior Court accuses the school and the church of discrimination, wrongful termination and violation of the state consumer protection laws. Zmuda’s lawyers argue he was not a religious employee of the school.
In the response they plan to file to the lawsuit, lawyers for the church argue the case “would impermissibly entangle the Court in Catholic doctrine,” and would lead the court to examine the church’s definition of marriage.
“I am a lifelong Catholic,” Zmuda said. “I am a gay man. I did not choose to be gay. I do not see any inconsistency in the teachings of Jesus and being gay.”
Zmuda’s lawsuit notes that the school previously posted a statement on its website that it does not discriminate based on marital status or sexual orientation, but that statement was removed after his dismissal. A similar statement was included in the employee handbook.
“I relied on those statements,” Zmuda said.
Zmuda has said the school’s administrators were aware that he is gay and that he was in a relationship. Administrators asked him not to bring his partner to school functions, according to the lawsuit.
The school sent a letter home to parents on Thursday, saying the school’s board of directors would handle legal issues and the administrators would continue to run the school.