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‘Get a Divorce or You’re Fired’

SEATTLE (CN) - A Catholic high school vice president who was fired for marrying his same-sex partner claims in court that the school and archdiocese violated their own policies against sexual orientation and marital status discrimination.

Mark Zmuda sued Eastside Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Seattle in King County Court, for employment discrimination.

Zmuda claims the school principal told him he could keep his job if he divorced his husband and held a commitment ceremony instead. He claims the principal even offered to have the school pay for it.

Zmuda says the school, in Sammamish, supported his marriage at first but faced pressure from the Archdiocese to fire him because "his marriage to a man was against Catholic teachings and principles," according to the complaint.

It states: "On November 11, 2013, the school administrators met with Mr. Zmuda to discuss the fact of his marriage.

"At this meeting, Mr. Zmuda acknowledged his marriage. The school administrators told Mr. Zmuda at this meeting that his marriage was 'none of their (ECS's) business,' and that Mr. Zmuda had 'full support' from the ECS administration.

"On November 19, 2013, the school president again met with Mr. Zmuda, this time asking him to confirm that he was legally married. Mr. Zmuda again stated that he was legally married and was in possession of an official marriage certificate.

"The school president then informed Mr. Zmuda that his employment at ECS would be terminated unless he filed for a divorce.

"The school president also told Mr. Zmuda that if he were to divorce his husband, ECS would pay the costs of holding a 'commitment ceremony' in place of a wedding.

"Mr. Zmuda refused to divorce his husband." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Zmuda says he was fired after the school's president met with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

"The school president informed Mr. Zmuda that he would be terminated because of his status as a married gay man. She said that the decision came from the Archbishop, and not the school," the complaint states.

"On December 17, 2013, Mr. Zmuda met with the school president, ECS Board of Trustees Chairman Gene Colin, and Mike Patterson, the attorney for the Archdiocese.

"Mr. Patterson told Mr. Zmuda that his marriage to a man was against Catholic teachings and principles."

However, Zmuda says in the 11-page complaint, before he was fired, the school website claimed that Eastside Catholic did not discriminate based on "race, religion, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or any other status or condition protected by local, state or federal law."

That statement has been removed, Zmuda says.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in February that religious nonprofits can be sued for employment discrimination if the employee's job was not related to religion. Previously, the state's anti-discrimination law did not apply to nonprofit religious institutions.

Zmuda claims his job duties were "wholly unrelated to any religious practice or activity" - no different from the duties of an administrator at a public or nonreligious private school.

After Zmuda was fired, hundreds of Eastside students walked out of class and staged a supporting sit-in and rally, according to local media.

The Archdiocese of Seattle said in a statement that it will ask the court to dismiss Zmuda's complaint.

"The Archdiocese did not direct, nor does it have the ability or authority to direct, employment decisions made by Eastside Catholic School, but the Archdiocese believes the school's decision is consistent with Catholic teaching," the statement said.

Zmuda seeks damages for loss of income and benefits, emotional distress, harm to his reputation, tortious interference with business expectancy, violation of Washington's employment discrimination law, breach of implied contract, wrongful termination and violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

He is represented by Richard Friedman, with Friedman Rubin.

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