Second Roncalli counselor losing job because of same-sex marriage

Lynn Starkey (photo courtesy DeLaney & DeLaney, LLC)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – A second Roncalli High School guidance counselor is losing her job because she's married to a woman.

Lynn Starkey has been at Roncalli for 39 years. She even earned a ‘Teacher of the Year’ award in 2009, but she won't be back next year.

Starkey's attorney Kathleen DeLaney said Starkey's contract is not being renewed because "she's in a same sex marriage and she filed a discrimination complaint in November of 2018," a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

It alleges discrimination and a hostile work environment and now, retaliation through the loss of her job.

A spokesman with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis shared this statement:

"Contracts for school ministerial positions are one (1) year contracts. The contract specifically states: "This contract is not automatically renewable. The School Guidance Counselor has no right to, or the promise of a contract exceeding the school year.

Ms. Starkey is currently in breach of her contract with Roncalli High School, because she is in a civil union that is considered "contrary to a valid marriage as seen through the eyes of the Catholic Church.

The 2019-2020 contract language will contain the same language. Therefore, Ms. Starkey could not in good faith enter into the contract so long as she is unable to abide by the terms of the contract."

Starkey's dismissal comes seven months after students and parents rallied on behalf of fellow guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was placed on paid leave in August and banned from the campus because she is also married to a woman.

Delaney said she wants to know why other church teachings aren't being addressed when it comes to renewing teacher contracts.

"They're not asking teachers every year...did you use birth control last year? Did you get divorced this year," said Delaney. "This has been for decades a don't ask don't tell policy, whether or not it's written down. That's been reality until recently."

The upset over Fitzgerald led Shawn Aldrich, a Roncalli alum and parent, to create the Facebook page, Time to be a Rebel. It counts 4,600 members.

When asked about Starkey's contract, Aldrich said, "you count not only Lynn but Shelley and you're looking at 45 years of quality educators they're losing. They don't do it for money or fame. They do it because they love to help kids, and to simply cast them away is shameful."

Delaney said Starkey is committed to working with her students and finishing out the school year but said it's been challenging, "trying to do the best job you can when you have this gloom and doom outcome and it's a horrible, horrible way to end a 39-year career."

Delaney said regardless of what happens with the EEOC complaint the battle will likely end up in the courts.

She said while Roncalli will likely make the argument that the law does not apply to them because they're a religious institution, "the First Amendment does not bar all employee discrimination claims against religious entities."

Delaney argues though it's a "church school," Roncalli is also one of the state's top recipients of voucher money.

"So, at the same time they're taking in millions of dollars in voucher money they're discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status," she said.

Fitzgerald's attorney has said they too plan to pursue legal action, once the EEOC complaints are decided.

Fitzgerald's attorney, David Page, said in January he's all but certain Fitzgerald's case will end up in court and it could end up being a precedent-setting case or cases. He said the court will ultimately have to decide if private institutions, in this case a church school, getting government vouchers or any type of taxpayer dollars can, in his words, discriminate based on sexual orientation or anything else.

State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, responded an hour after the news first broke of Starkey's contract not being renewed, saying, in full:

State Sen. J.D. Ford
State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis (official photo)

"State funds should not be used for discrimination, plain and simple. This is the second time that Roncalli High School has discriminated against its staff because of their sexual orientation — all the while receiving state voucher money. Lynn Starkey now joins Shelly Fitzgerald as dedicated educators who are being judged because of who they are.

“This is why the General Assembly must prevent discrimination in any school that receives public funds. Your tax dollars should not be used to discriminate against any Hoosier because of their innate characteristics.

“The legislation I introduced this session, Senate Bill 344, would have prevented any school that receives state funds from discriminating against its staff or students. My bill didn’t receive a hearing, but there is still time for the majority party to make sure this language becomes law this session. We must ensure that our schools are safe places, void of any fear of judgment or retribution.”

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