Zmuda: 'I was told I could either divorce or be fired'

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by TRAVIS PITTMAN / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 6:14 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 7 at 6:20 PM

The gay former vice-principal of Eastside Catholic says the school claimed it did not discriminate based on marital status or sexual orientation when he was hired, but then fired him for entering into a same-sex marriage last year.

Mark Zmuda filed a complaint for damages against Eastside Catholic and the Seattle Archdiocese Friday. Zmuda told reporters the school was initially supportive of his marriage, but said he believes the school changed its position under pressure from the church.

“The information we have is that there was involvement from the archdiocese. Pressure was put on the school to fire Mark,” said Richard Friedman, Zmuda’s attorney.

“I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job. I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice? I was fired,” said Zmuda.

In a statement released Friday, the Seattle Archdiocese said it has no authority to direct employment decisions for the school.

Zmuda said that he applied for the job, the school’s website read, “it did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation.” He also said the employee handbook indicated the school did not discriminate.

“If I had read the school’s website and it had said, ‘We do not hire gay men or gay men who marry,’ I would have never taken the job at Eastside Catholic,” said Zmuda.

Friedman said the case is not about homosexuality or religion, but about an employer keeping its word to an employee.

“The heart of the case is really just a standard employment case. You can’t represent something to a potential employee, have them rely upon it, and then take it back. This happened to be a particular representation, ‘We won’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status,” said Friedman. “The law is very clear that representations by an employer to an employee is enforceable if the employee relies upon them.”

However, in a motion to dismiss, Eastside Catholic and the Archdiocese call Zmuda's role a religious one that required him to "serve the legitimate Roman Catholic religious value of providing a suitable Catholic education for children."

Employment attorney Jeffrey Needle offered this example.

"Let's say there was a nun and she decided she wanted to become a priest. That would be gender discrimination in the real world," said Needle.  "But because they have a First Amendment right of religion, both of establishment and free exercise, the nun can't sue the church."

Friedman would not specify what kind of resolution Zmuda is seeking, but said it’s unlikely Zmuda would return to Eastside Catholic.

“There’s real concern that his career has been ruined. He’s going to have to report he was fired any time he applies for a job now,” said Friedman.  “The hope is that, in one way or another, he’ll be able to get back to being in school administration, which is what he wants to do.”

Zmuda said he has been comforted by students, parents, teachers and alumni who have called on the school to reinstate him.

KING 5's Alison Morrow contributed to this report

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