Lesbian settles lawsuit after being fired from job at Kansas City church

Kansas City, Mo. (AP) – A former Kansas City church worker who said she was fired after her same-sex marriage was publicized settled her lawsuit with the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

The amount awarded to Colleen Simon, a former food pantry coordinator, was not released after her lawsuit was settled, The Kansas City Star reported. Simon was seeking unpaid wages, fringe benefits, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages.

In her lawsuit, Simon alleged that her supervisors at St. Francis Xavier Church knew she was a married lesbian and had said her sexual orientation wasn’t an issue. But she was fired two weeks after The Star wrote an article in April 2014 about her marriage to the Rev. Donna Simon of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City.

Jackson County Judge Kenneth R. Garrett III said that he wouldn’t consider Simon’s allegation of alleged fraud from the priests’ statements regarding her sexual orientation and her employment status because it “would impermissibly entangle the court in matters and decisions purely canonical.”

The diocese’s lawyers said that allegation was the most important point of the lawsuit and the judge’s ruling allowed the diocese to make its employment decisions without court intervention.

“A church isn’t obligated to employ those who act contrary to the church’s teachings,” said Erik Stanley, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that assisted in the diocese’s defense. “The district court was on very firm constitutional ground to reject this attempt to drag the government into a church’s theological decisions – the very line the First Amendment says the government cannot cross.”

Garrett did not dismiss questions over whether the diocese failed to issue a service letter detailing Simon’s employment that met the requirements of Missouri law and whether Simon’s employment status qualified her for overtime pay. He said those issues should be decided by a jury.

The diocese did not want those matters discussed in court and offered a settlement, said E.E. Keenan, Simon’s lawyer.

“For over a year and a half, the diocese fought hard to prevent Ms. Simon’s case from going to a jury,” Keenan said. “We feel good that this judgment affirms the ability of church employees who are wronged to seek justice in our courts.”

Keenan said Simon has found new work at Journey to New Life, a nonprofit organization that assists former prisoners transitioning after incarceration.

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