A gay teacher fired from Cathedral High School will have his day in court — again.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Marion County Superior Court erred in dismissing Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and reversed the decision, sending the case back to court.
Payne-Elliott, a world language and social studies teacher, was fired in June 2019 after the archdiocese mandated all Catholic schools under its purview enforce a morality clause that prohibits employees from entering into same-sex marriages.
Payne-Elliott’s complaint alleges that the archdiocese illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral, causing the school to terminate him.
Payne-Elliott had worked at Cathedral High School since 2006. He is married to Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. They married in 2017. The couple has been at the center of a fight between their schools and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, 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.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis argued that the lawsuit was barred by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, claiming in court documents that the First Amendment prohibits a secular court from interfering in internal church matters.
The church has held in this and two other lawsuits filed against it by other former employees fired for same-sex marriages that it has the right to set such rules for its employees.
Payne-Elliott’s case alleges that in doing so, the church interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral. His contract was with the school, but not the church.
In May, the court dismissed Payne-Elliott’s case on the basis of several trial court rules. The three-judge appellate court panel ruled that Judge Lance Hamner was incorrect in that decision.
The appellate court found that the trial court did have jurisdiction to hear the case and that it was too early in the process to dismiss the case on summary judgement. It also ruled that the court erred in dismissing the case with prejudice, which would have meant that the same claim could not be refiled in that court.
Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.
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