(CN) – An event center manager sued a Catholic church in Portland, Oregon, for $2.4 million this week, claiming that after suffering reputational harm because it abided by the church’s anti-gay policy, the Holy Rosary Church terminated its contract because it hired a gay manager.
Holladay Investors dba The Ambridge Event Center sued the Holy Rosary Church of Portland on Tuesday in Multnomah County Court, for breach of contract, breach of faith, discrimination and violations of Oregon civil rights and business laws.
Ambridge sued as a former employee and tenant of the Holy Rosary Church, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and a member of the Dominican Order.
According to the complaint, the church owns the center on — somewhat ironically — Martin Luther King Boulevard in Northeast Portland. Holladay/Ambridge, a for-profit enterprise, has managed and rented out the event center since 2008, under a series of contracts.
The “Morals Clause” of the 2012 contract prohibits Ambridge from renting the center “to organizations and groups of people with whom the Church wished not to affiliate,” according to the complaint.
It continues: “The Church was explicit in prohibiting Ambridge from renting out the Event Center to members of or groups affiliated with the LGBTQ community.” (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.)
Ambridge says it abided by these terms, and when a group “associated with the LGBTQ community” asked to rent the center in 2015, it informed the group that it was not allowed to do that.
“As a result, there was a significant amount of negative press the organization generated against Ambridge and the church due to the discriminatory policy in the contract and in their rental of the Event Center,” the complaint states.
It continues: “Ambridge’s image suffered from this revelation. Even businesses and government entities that had previously scheduled events with Ambridge, who were not affiliated with the LGBTQ community but had equity-driven internal policies, refused to work with Ambridge after reading or hearing about the discriminatory policy involved in its employment relationship with the church.”
After this brouhaha, Ambridge says, it spent months “attempting to restore its image with its clientele and its relationship with the LGBTQ community, going so far as to hire an events coordinator, Mr. Gary Sorrels, who is openly gay.”
Sorrels is not a party to the complaint. Ambridge hired him in November 2015.
Soon after, on Dec. 4, 2015, the church fired Ambridge and Sorrels, issuing a notice to vacate. It did this “as retaliation for hiring Mr. Sorrels, and because Ambridge had chosen to associate itself with the LGBT community,” the complaint states.
Ambridge repeatedly sought to meet and confer with the church, but the church refused — in violation of the contract, Ambridge says.
This cost Ambridge “$1,875,000 in lost income, $69,000 in improperly assessed property taxes that Ambridge was forced to pay under duress, $250,000 in improvements made to the Event Center and adjoining Church property, plus interest,” the complaint states, plus $250,000 in improvements Ambridge made to church property.
Ambridge seeks $2.375 million in damages for breach of contract, breach of faith, violation of Oregon laws on sexual discrimination and rental discrimination, and reserves the right to seek punitive damages.
The complaint was filed by Preg, O’Donnell & Gillett, which said it withdrew as counsel, and Anna Raman with Chock Barhoum has taken over the case. She declined to comment Thursday afternoon. A message to the church’s business manager Janet Maglitz was not returned.