‘I did nothing wrong.’ Gay teacher who lost job at Charlotte Catholic High wins lawsuit

Federal Judge ruled Friday in favor of a former teacher who was gay and had to quit Charlotte Catholic High School. He announced on Facebook that he planned to marry his long-term male partner.
U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. ruled that the school and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte had violated workplace sex discrimination law by firing Lonnie Billard, a former drama teacher.

Billard responded to the decision of the judges by stating that he felt relief and vindication.

Billard stated that he wishes he could have continued teaching throughout this case. The ACLU of North Carolina represented Billard in Friday's statement. Today's decision confirms that I was not guilty of anything by being gay.

Officials from the diocesan said that they disagree with Cogburn's ruling and are looking at next steps.

According to the statement of the diocese, the First Amendment, federal law and recent Supreme Court decisions recognize religious organizations' rights to make employment decisions based upon religious preference and observance. They should not force religious schools to hire teachers who contradict their teachings.

The Diocese of Charlotte offers Catholic schools to help provide high-quality education for the community and to pass on the Catholic faith to future generations. Catholic schools can employ teachers who are supportive of the teachings of our Church and won't publicly oppose them, just like all religious schools.

Teacher of the Year

Billard, a former banker joined the Charlotte Catholic faculty in full-time in 2001. This was the year he fell for the man he would later marry, as The Observer previously reported.

Billard was the Schools Teacher of the Year for 2012. He was then told by Jerry Healy, the school principal, that he was the only one nominated for the Teacher of the Year award every year.

After the 2012 school year, he retired but continued to work as a substitute teacher. He stated that he didn't try to hide his homosexuality from any school staff. He said that his partner was a frequent companion to him at school events. This made him well-known to Charlotte Catholic students and teachers as well as parents and administrators.

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Supreme Court decision

After the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike down the federal ban against same-sex marriage, Billard stated that he and his partner had decided to wed in fall 2014.

Billard published his wedding announcement on Facebook, just two weeks after North Carolina's ban on marriage was also struck down.

According to Billard's complaint, he learned that he had lost his substitute job on Christmas Day of that year. The lawsuit stated that Billard was later informed by an assistant principal that his termination had been ordered by the diocese because of the Facebook post.

At the time, a diocesan spokesperson told Charlotte media that Billard had lost his job because he used Facebook to enter into a relationship with another woman and that he did not agree with Catholic Church teachings.

To determine the amount of compensation, you can test it out in advance

Cogburn ruled Friday that federal laws protecting the autonomy of churches and freedom of association don't protect the school or diocese from liability for violations of Title VII of Civil Rights Act sex discrimination laws.

The judge ordered Billard's case to be tried to determine the amount of Billard's compensation.

Billard sought back pay and benefits, punitive damages, compensatory damages, and an order preventing the school and Catholic leaders taking similar punitive measures in the future.