Court Revives Lawsuit Of Teacher Fired For Same-Sex Marriage

Associated Press

Thursday November 25, 2021

Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott
Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott  (Source:Facebook)

A lawsuit filed by a teacher who was fired from his job at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis for being in a same-sex marriage can proceed, a state appeals court ruled.

A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that a Marion County court erred in dismissing Joshua Payne-Elliott's lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The ruling reverses that decision and sends the case back to the lower court, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Payne-Elliott had worked for 13 years as a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School. He was fired in June 2019 after the archdiocese mandated that all Catholic schools under its purview enforce a morality clause barring employees from entering into same-sex marriages.

Payne-Elliott married Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, in 2017.

The couple has been at the center of a fight between their schools and the archdiocese, which directed the schools to fire both men. Brebeuf did not comply with the directive, to which the archdiocese responded by attempting to strip Brebeuf of its status as a Catholic institution.

Payne-Elliott filed a lawsuit in July 2019, alleging that the archdiocese illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School by causing the school to terminate him.

An attorney for LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, which had filed a brief supporting Payne-Elliott's lawsuit, praised the appeals court ruling, calling it "wonderful."

"Joshua Payne-Elliott just wanted the chance to make his case in court. The Indiana Court of Appeals today ruled that he will get that opportunity," Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal's senior counsel, said in a statement Tuesday.

The archdiocese asked the lower court in August 2019 to dismiss Payne-Elliott's lawsuit, citing the First Amendment as a defense.

An attorney representing the archdiocese in the case said Wednesday in a statement that the "Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutional right of Catholic schools to hire teachers who fully support the schools' Catholic mission."

"Today's ruling doesn't address this core issue, and we're confident that when the courts finally do, they will respect this fundamental right," said Luke Goodrich, the vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a legal organization focused on religious liberty.

So she plans a quiet Thanksgiving away from home today. She isn't sure if they will make Arbery's favorite — pork chops and butter beans, but if not Thursday, the they will have them soon because she said her son loved them for Sunday dinner.

"Today is actually going to be a day of rest. I've been sitting in that courtroom since October 18," Cooper-Jones said. "I'm gathering my immediate family. We're going to have a small dinner. We've going to be thankful. We're going to give our praises to God."

Other relatives are also grateful for the blessing of justice.

"We're thankful for Ahmaud's life. Thankful for the love that he's shown us, for the years we had him. Thankful for the fight we stayed in for justice. Thankful that now we can start healing," Arbery's aunt Thea Brooks told the AP.

Cooper-Jones is also thankful her son's killers are facing justic e and his death will make Georgia a safer place.

After Arbery's death, Georgia became the 47th state to pass a hate crimes law. The Legislature also repealed the citizen's arrest law that defense attorneys tried to use to justify chasing him, banning people who aren't officers from detaining people outside of shoplifting.

"When they hear my son's name. they will say, this young man, he lost his life but he did bring change," Cooper-Jones said.

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Jeffrey Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Alex Sanz in Atlanta and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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