Indiana Appeals Court Revives Fired Gay Catholic School Teacher’s Lawsuit against the Indianapolis Archdiocese

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November 23, 2021

Today, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed a lower court decision and ruled that Joshua Payne-Elliott deserves an opportunity to make his case, reviving Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Payne-Elliott claimed the Archdiocese violated his contract with Cathedral High School when it compelled Cathedral to fire him or risk losing the school’s Catholic status because Payne-Elliott is married to a man., issued the following statement.

A lower court had dismissed Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit, and he then appealed the ruling. Lambda Legal, with pro-bono co-counsel, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Payne-Elliott’s appeal, which the Court of Appeals cited specifically in its ruling. Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and director of the Employment Fairness Project, issued the following statement:

“What a wonderful unanimous appellate court ruling. Joshua Payne-Elliott just wanted the chance to make his case in court. The Indiana Court of Appeals today ruled that he will get that opportunity. The court realized, as we had argued in our brief, that it was quite premature for the lower court to dismiss this lawsuit under the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution without discovery and the ability to develop the factual record to determine whether the ministerial exception applies to Payne-Elliott’s work as a teacher of world language and social studies to high school students.

“The Archdiocese had sought to wield the First Amendment as some form of absolute immunity from any lawsuit challenging its actions. The Free Exercise Clause is not so broad. At a minimum, Payne-Elliott should be given the opportunity to present his case. His 13 years teaching at Cathedral High deserves no less, and we are grateful that the court agrees.”

The ruling is here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/payne-elliot_in_20211123_opinion

Read Lambda Legal’s amicus brief here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/payne-elliot_in_20211123_amicus-brief