CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In a victory for LGBTQIA employee protections, a federal court in North Carolina ruled today that Charlotte Catholic High School violated Title VII when it fired a substitute teacher, Lonnie Billard, for announcing his plans in a Facebook post in 2014 to marry his longtime same-sex partner. The court order can be read here.
"After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teaching all this time," said Lonnie Billard, plaintiff in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School. "Today's decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man."
In its decision in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School, the court pointed to the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay or transgender employees from discrimination; and held that the “ministerial exception” to Title VII protections set out in Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrisey-Berru did not apply to the secular role Billard played in teaching English and Drama classes.
“Today’s decision is one of the first applications of the Supreme Court’s ban on sex discrimination to employees of private religious schools,” said Irena Como, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “The court sent a clear message that Charlotte Catholic violated Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination when it fired Mr. Billard for announcing his engagement to his same-sex partner. Religious schools have the right to decide who will perform religious functions or teach religious doctrine, but when they hire employees for secular jobs they must comply with Title VII and cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation.”
The case will now proceed to trial to determine the appropriate relief for Mr. Billard. He is represented in the lawsuit by the ACLU LGBTQ Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.