A gay music director fired by a Catholic parish for announcing his engagement to another man is now suing his former employer, filing a federal discrimination suit on Monday against his onetime church and the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In 2014, Colin Collette lost his job as music director of Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, Illinois after he declared his betrothal to his male partner on Facebook shortly after marriage equality became legal in the state. The church’s priest quickly asked for Collette’s resignation, arguing his same-sex union to his partner of five years was a “non-sacramental marriage” forbidden by the Catholic Church. When Collette refused, he was immediately fired.
Collette’s forced departure outraged many in his parish, which he served for 17 years, and dozens rushed to his defense. But when officials refused to reinstate Collette, who also holds a Masters in Divinity, he filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Cook County Commission on Human Rights in December 2014, claiming his termination was a form of discrimination. The complaint also argued that church leaders were aware of his relationship to another man long before he was fired, implying that officials only reacted because his homosexuality became public.
“You know, I’ve been a good and faithful servant,” Collette told WGNtv. “Just let me do my job.”
More than a year and a half later, a state commission finally cleared the way for Collette to file a formal lawsuit on Monday, which charges the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago with violating the federal Civil Rights Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. The lawsuit also notes that the church currently employs both unmarried LGBT people and heterosexuals in “non-sacramental” marriages that were not sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
In addition, the complaint notes that while Collette was officially a director of worship and music, he did not fully oversee music for formal religious services such as Mass.
“Colin Collette had concurrent titles of Director of Worship and Director of Music while employed with Defendants, but he was not responsible for planning the liturgy or selecting the music played during masses and services at Holy Family Parish,” the lawsuit reads. “Colin Collette never selected nor approved music for masses for [the church].”
The distinction is important, because the Archdiocese will likely defend the firing by claiming the so-called “ministerial exception,” an older legal framework that originally allowed religious institutions to have full control over who they hire and fire for ordained clerical positions. In 2012, however, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the category to potentially include virtually any position a religious institution deems “ministerial” — irrespective of whether the job requires an employee to be ordained, such as a music director position.
This expansion has led to a rash of firings — and subsequent controversies — at Catholic institutions across the country, with LGBT schoolteachers and even food pantry workers being let go simply for publicizing their same-sex relationships. In fact, Collette isn’t even the only Catholic worker allegedly fired for being LGBT in the Archdiocese of Chicago: In November 2015, Sandor Demkovich — another church music director at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City until last year — filed a complaint saying he lost his job after he married his male partner.