Just Keep It Out of the Newspapers ...
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (CN) - A Catholic parish fired a social-work director after a newspaper article revealed her sexual orientation, though the church knew she was gay when it hired her, she claims in court.
Colleen Simon sued the Most Rev. Robert W. Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on July 17, in Jackson County Court.
Simon, described in the lawsuit as "a proud mother of two sons ... a lesbian and ... the proud wife of Rev. Donna Simon," says she was hired by St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church as its Director of Social Ministry in May 2013.
The plaintiff and Donna Simon were married in Iowa, as same-sex marriages are illegal in Missouri.
Simon claims she revealed her sexual orientation to the church even before submitting her application, and that the Director of Religious Education told her: "'Go ahead and apply. I've spoken to [the first pastor] and it won't be a problem.'" (Brackets in complaint.)
During a face-to-face interview, Simon says, she told the first pastor that she and her wife were "well known in the community, and were known to be an open, out, married couple in the community."
"The first pastor was nonplussed, and expressed no objection to Ms. Simon's sexual orientation or her relationship with Donna," according to the complaint.
In January 2014, after the pastor who had interviewed her moved away, Simon says she revealed her sexual orientation to the new pastor of St. Francis Xavier, who "looked surprised. He said 'Oh, okay. It's okay.'"
A reporter from the Kansas City Star approached Simon in April 2014 to discuss her work in the Troost Corridor area of the city. She says she "directed the reporter to the new Pastor, who then directed the reporter back to Simon."
"Ms. Simon spoke with the reporter about her work at the food pantry. The reporter also spoke with Ms. Simon's wife, Donna Simon, about her anti-poverty work on Troost."
The lawsuit continues: "On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, an article in the Kansas City Star's 816 Magazine by the reporter titled, 'Trusting in Troost,' came out. It discussed many of the people involved in community activism and human development issues in the Troost corridor. It mentioned Colleen Simon as Donna Simon's spouse. The story featured a photo of Colleen working in the food pantry. The caption reads: 'Colleen Simon, pastoral associate for justice and life at St. Francis Xavier, is married to Donna Simon, the pastor at St. Mark.' [sic] 'Colleen Simon works at St. Francis Xavier's food pantry helping families in the neighborhood get enough to eat.'"
Simon says the pastor of St. Francis Xavier emailed her, expressing concern about the information in the article, and also called the reporter and "asked [her] if she was a Catholic, and when the reporter answered that she was not, the new pastor stated to her that she didn't know what she had done."
The pastor called Simon to a meeting on May 9, 2014, and "informed Ms. Simon that the Bishop's office had contacted him by phone and then followed up with a letter after having received a copy of the reporter's article in the mail.
"The new pastor stated that now that Ms. Simon's marital status was public, he had no choice but to ask her to submit a letter of resignation," the complaint states.
"After that, Ms. Simon asked the new pastor if she could continue to perform the technical aspects of her position, such as data entry and food collection and distribution for the pantry. The new pastor said that would not be possible. The meeting adjourned and Ms. Simon had the weekend to consider whether to resign or be terminated. She returned to work the next week."
Upon returning to work, Simon says, she was allowed to continue her job until Wednesday, May 14 - the date of several shipments for the food pantry - and was then fired.
Despite knowing her marital status upon hiring her, Simon says her termination letter stated: "The reason for your involuntary separation of employment was based upon an irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline, and teaching of the Catholic Church and your relationship - formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa - to a person of the same sex."
Simon seeks compensatory and punitive damages for fraud and violations of the Missouri Service Letter Law, as her termination letter mentioned nothing about deficiencies in job performance.
She is represented by Edward E. Keenan in Kansas City.