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Gay teacher wins lawsuit against Charlotte Catholic after losing job

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. said the school and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte violated workplace sex discrimination laws in firing Lonnie Billard.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A former teacher won a lawsuit against Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte after he lost his job following an announcement on Facebook that he planned to marry his longtime partner, who is also a man.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. said the school and the diocese violated workplace sex discrimination laws in firing Lonnie Billard, a former drama and English teacher. The case now moves to a trial to determine how Billard will be compensated.

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Billard was a full-time teacher at the school from 2001 to 2012 and served as a substitute teacher until 2014. The ruling states he received positive work evaluations, winning an inspirational educator award from North Carolina State University in 2011. He was also named Charlotte Catholic's Teacher of the Year in 2012.

In May 2015, he filed sex discrimination charges against Charlotte Catholic with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he lost his job.

The ruling said Billard was informed via a phone call from an assistant principal he could no longer work at the school as a substitute teacher because he announced his engagement to his partner. The school said Billard advocated against the teachings of the Catholic Church as well. Court documents reveal Diocese Communications Director David Hains said Billard was fired for marrying a man and publicly stating on Facebook that he disagrees with the Catholic Church's teachings.

"I got a call telling me I would not be allowed to teach anymore," Billard told WCNC Charlotte in 2015. "As it was explained to me, that because I had posted on Facebook to my friends that my longtime partner Rich — Rich and I were going to get married this spring. Apparently, there were a couple of teachers that were unhappy with that."

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However, the court found Billard raised a valid Title VII sex discrimination claim under the ruling of Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020.

Charlotte Catholic's code of conduct also does not explicitly state the school's standing on marriage, according to court documents.

Diocese officials issued a statement on the ruling Saturday: 

We respectfully disagree with the district court’s decision and are considering next steps. The First Amendment, federal law, and recent Supreme Court decisions all recognize the rights of religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious observance and preference. They do not – and should not – compel religious schools to employ teachers who publicly contradict their teachings. 

The Catholic schools offered by the Diocese of Charlotte exist to provide high-quality education and transmit the Catholic faith to the next generation. Like all religious schools, Catholic schools are permitted to employ educators who support our Church’s teachings and will not publicly oppose them. 

WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the ACLU, who represents Billard in this case.

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