USA Today recently reported a situation in which a vice principal of a Catholic high school in Sammamish, WA was fired. Usually, without details, schools letting faculty and administration go doesn’t seem to be a big deal. However, an important piece of information in this story is that Mark Zmuda, the [former] vice principal of Eastside Catholic High School, is gay. In the USA Today article, it is reported that Zmuda plans to file a lawsuit against the school and the Seattle Archdiocese. This intrigues me, and at the same time, is perplexing.
Zmuda was essentially fired for breaking the Catholic [school’s] statement of faith, a document that does not support homosexual marriage and civil unions between gay couples (seeing that is the Catholic Church’s official position); one that he signed anyway either knowing he had homosexual feelings, or he was gay (which could be considered deceitful).
Here are my issues with this situation: 1) the educational institution was explicit about its’ expectations for employees. 2) The school has a right to uphold its code of conduct or standard (beliefs; in this case the standard happens to be religious-based). 3) He had to know, trusting he is a rational human being, what he was doing when he wedded his male partner: violating his employer’s standards of behavior; one, again, that he consciously agreed to adhere to. 4) Why doesn’t Mr. Zmuda go work for a public school, one that doesn’t have these specific standards instead of working for an institution with whom you and your lifestyle disagree?
Though this analogy isn’t perfect given that the issue wasn’t with Mr. Zmuda’s work, the principles still apply: knew the expectations for his job, whether professional or private. This would be like to agree to work for a place with a formal (suit-tie) dress code and a code of ethics which prohibited profanity, and yet one day, deciding to come into work shirtless, with flip-flops on, and cursing in conversation with customers. Does the employer not have the right to fire for violating its’ rules of conduct? Of course it does. You acknowledged your employer’s rules when you signed on and you knowingly violated them. What is discriminatory about that? Can one really sue for discrimination on the basis of not being allowed to express oneself in a way which he pleases? No. Every place of employment has rules and expectations and fully expects its’ employees to abide by them. This private, religious-based school has a set of rules, regardless of how strict those rules are deemed to be by others, and this school is entitled to uphold them.
What grounds does he have to sue?
Separation between Church and State does not fly here. The reason Church and State separation doesn’t apply here is because 1) Eastside Catholic is a private school, meaning it does not receive government funding. Actually, separation between Church and State doesn’t even mean what most people take it to mean (a post for another time); 2) The institution was explicit about the moral, ethical and behavioral expectations for its’ faculty, and Zmuda signed a contract acknowledging such standards.
I’m puzzled, and yet interested at what possible case Zmuda’s legal team can present against the school seeing Mr. Zmuda was fully aware of his predicament and proceeded in act in a manner that does not comply with his employer’s code of conduct.
I am no law expert. I write this article not as a cynic nor am I contemptuous. I am frustrated with situations such as this (reasons 1-4 above), particularly when (its inevitable as in this case) that government will intervene in such a situation, and perhaps, force an institution to violate its own rules (like the Hobby Lobby situation regarding the contraception mandate of Obamacare). I am very simply looking for common sense.