John Murphy was fired from a local non-profit because he married his partner of 30 years
John Murphy, 63, was excited to get a job offer in April of this year. He realizes his experience isn’t as valuable in relation to his age, not like it used to be at least. So when he responded to a blind job application for an executive director position with a Richmond area non-profit, he was thrilled to get a response.
As the months passed, he went through multiple interviews, and was finally given details about the job – it would be heading up a care facility for low income elderly Richmonders run by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Murphy (top image right) was unsure about what to do next. He was raised Catholic, graduated from Notre Dame, and still attended church semi-regularly, but he was an openly gay man who’d been legally married to his partner, Jerry Carter (top image left), of 30 years since 2008.
“I had a little bit of misgiving,” he said. But he was told by the recruiter “your resume is exactly what this board wants right now as far as the skill sets you bring.”
He went forward with the application and was reassured his private life would not impact with the job at a faith level when he was told the Executive Director position would be entirely administrative. The St. Francis Home was paid for by the Catholic Church, but managed by a board. His job would be assisting the board and leading fundraising efforts.
“When I got to the next interviews, they said they really wanted me to focus on these kinds of things and less on the religious aspect of it,” he said.
Murphy started the job in late March. He worked there for 8 business days until April 1 when he received a message from two representatives from the Richmond Catholic Dioceses saying they wanted to meet with him.
He’d hadn’t met anyone from the diocese yet, so he figured it was a welcoming committee.
“It was not,” he said. “The CFO, and the human resources rep from the diocese came to my office and stated to me… ‘same-sex marriage is antithetical to Roman Catholic Church doctrine. This makes you unfit and ineligible to be the executive director of St. Francis home.’”
Murphy was in a state of shock. He tried to speak with the Bishop, but said his requests were denied.
“I experience this callous termination as a fundamental betrayal of my church,” he said.
Within hours of being fired, he received phone calls from several members of the St. Francis board, folks he had interviewed with only a few weeks earlier, who said they had refused to go along with the firing. Some told him members had resigned following the news.
“It is difficult for me to believe this can happen in America in 2015, especially after the Supreme Court rule in June that I have a constitutional right for me to marry my partner,” he said. “How then can it be either moral or legal for me to be fired for that very reason.”
A statement on the Catholic Diocese of Richmond website confirms Murphy’s claim.
“As a Catholic organization, we expect the employees of the Diocese and its ministries, to uphold and embody the consistent values and truths of the Catholic faith, including those preserving the sanctity of marriage,” read the statement.
Both the state of Virginia and the federal government lack protections for LGBTQ employees. If such were in place, Murphy could sue his employer for discrimination. Because that option doesn’t exist, he’s forced to take up the issue with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC handles investigations into these claims, and can make decisions based on federal law relating to civil rights violations.
Aubrey Ford, a lawyer with Cantor Stoneburner Ford Grana & Buckner, has filed the EEOC claim of discrimination against sex for Murphy. Sex discrimination claims have been used by a few LGBTQ Americans in recent years as it relates to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Filed in 2013, the case of Baldwin v. Dept. of Transportation was the first EEOC claim to protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination based on sex because of who they love.
According to HuntonLaborBlog, the EEOC’s Title VII “sex” claim “encompasses both the anatomical differences between men and women and gender, which refers to social roles based on sex” and “The EEOC determined that that reasoning “applies equally in claims brought by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals under Title VII.”
Ford is confident the precedent set by the Baldwin case will be enough to sway the EEOC in their favor, but even if that happens, the final decision doesn’t have to be obeyed by the Diocese. But if they’re armed with a positive ruling, they can then take their claim to federal court and sue from there.
Ford estimated the investigation could take up to three months, and happen entirely behind closed doors.
A life long Catholic, Murphy said his faith has been shaken since he was let go earlier this year.
“It’s like another punch in the gut,” he said. “You think maybe things are safe now, you think maybe I can reconnect with this church in which i grew up and was baptized in… I don’t know where my faith is now.”
Murphy fears for his faith, and thinks the message cases like his sends to other LGBTQ Catholics is doing extensive harm to both the church and those these policies impact.
“I think the suicide rate, especially Catholic LGBT youth, is due in large part by the negative, constant message that they get from the pulpit,” he said. “That counts for a shaken self image and an attitude of ‘I night as well end it now.’”
“Fortunately I’m strong enough and old enough to be beyond that point.”
GayRVA will follow this case as it develops in the coming months.
“The CFO, and the human resources rep from the diocese came to my office and stated to me… ‘same-sex marriage is antithetical to Roman Catholic Church doctrine.”August 24, 2016
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