Roncalli guidance counselor files discrimination charges

Local

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Roncalli guidance counselor has filed a discrimination charge against the school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and says she has suffered “severe emotional distress, pain and suffering, and mental anguish” after her colleague Shelly Fitzgerald was put on leave due to a same-sex marriage. 

Lynn Starkey, who has worked at the Catholic high school for 39 years, on Friday filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination and a hostile work environment.

According to a letter from her lawyer, Starkey, a gay woman in a civil union since 2015, serves as the co-director of guidance at Roncalli alongside Shelly Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was put on paid leave Aug. 12 after someone showed her 2014 marriage certificate to school leaders, who said if she didn’t resign or end her same-sex marriage, her contract would not be renewed. Fitzgerald on Thursday said she planned to sue the archdiocese for protections for LGBT employees.

In her charge against the school and the archdiocese, Starkey says the decision to threaten Fitzgerald’s employment caused Starkey “severe emotional distress, pain and suffering, and mental anguish” and that she has had to take on Fitzgerald’s work responsibilities.

According to Starkey’s filing, “Roncalli’s mistreatment of Ms. Fitzgerald illustrates that gay people are not welcome to work here.” She says in the filing, “I have lost sleep, gained weight, and I am suffering from anxiety related to the hostile work environment at Roncalli.”

The day after Fitzgerald was put on leave, at a meeting between school and archdiocese leaders, a priest specializing in canon law “reminded everyone what constituted a ‘valid marriage’ under Catholic Church teachings, sharing that essentially the purpose of marriage is to procreate so there are more Catholics,” the filing says. Starkey says she asked “why gay marriage was such a hot button issue, compared to other ‘sins.'” She says in the filing that the archbishop referred to her question as the “leveling of sins.”

Starkey says the following day, Aug. 14, she wrote out prepared remarks about “what it was like to work at Roncalli as a gay person” for the school’s administrative council and shared them with Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach, who then asked her whether she was in a civil union. She says in the filing that she “asked him whether he really wanted to ask me that question,” and when he replied, “yes,” she answered, “yes.” 

In the complaint filing, Starkey says during her time at Roncalli, “(her) case and Ms. Fitzgerald’s are the only situations where I know that the Principal has asked an employee about potential violations of Church teachings.”

News 8 spoke to Starkey’s lawyer Friday evening.

“The cumulative effect of going into the workplace every day knowing that she is not welcome there by administration and by the hierarchy of the church it has taken a very big toll on her,” said Starkey’s lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney. “Why now? Her principal put her on the spot and asked her that question in August and every day since then, she’s been wondering ‘is today the day that I’m going to be walked out?'” 

DeLaney told News 8, filing these complaints are an important first step in order for a lawsuit to be filed.

“We think the law is pretty clear that a guidance counselor in a High school who doesn’t have any responsibility for religious instruction is covered by the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination,” DeLaney said. 

Starkey also claims in the complaint that she has never received the $1,500-per-year bonus she was supposed to receive as part of her 2009 Teacher of the Year award; she said she believes the payment has been withheld because of her sexual orientation and marital status. 

Starkey is currently still working at Roncalli.

DeLaney told News 8 if Roncalli High School or the Archdiocese of Indianapolis put Starkey on administrative leave based on this complaint, they will file a new EEOC retaliation charge.

The EEOC has six months to investigate Starkey’s current complaint, and decide whether or not the charge will go to court.

On Friday, neither Roncalli High School or the Archdiocese of Indianapolis had responded to News 8’s requests for comment on the matter. 

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