The latest story of a Catholic school firing an accomplished teacher for entering into a same-sex marriage is a bit different from others. After eight years on the job, Margie Winters was fired as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy outside Philadelphia not because she just married her wife, but because some parents just found out that she’s been married for all eight years.
Principal Nell Stetser sent an email to parents that Winters had been fired but didn’t specify why, though the reason seems obvious enough. “In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings,” she wrote, “but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings.” Stetser had counseled her after she started the job that she could be open about her marriage to other faculty, but should avoid discussing it families.
Winters described the concealment as “hard,” but maintained the necessary low profile all this time. But then parents of at least two students found out about her marriage and complained to both the school and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When asked to resign, Winters refused and was fired on June 22.
The firing could put the school in legal jeopardy. Lower Merion Township protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and its exemption for religious institutions does not include those that are “supported in whole or in part by government appropriations.” Over the past two years, Waldron Mercy has received more than $270,000 from Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, and students also receive financial aid through the state’s Education Improvement Tax Credit. If found in violation of the ordinance, the academy could be held liable for backpay, required to rehire Winters, and a penalty as high as $10,000, plus attorneys’ fees.
Pennsylvania, like 27 other states, has no state law protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination in the workplace. Even at secular businesses, employees can be fired just for having a picture of their same-sex wedding on their desks.
Some parents have promised to fight on Winters’ behalf.