A Chicago man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago, claiming that he was unlawfully fired from his position at an Inverness church because he married his same-sex partner.
The suit was filed March 7 in the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.
Colin Collette was employed at Holy Family Parish, also named in the suit, for 17 years as the church's director of worship and director of media, but he was terminated in July 2014, shortly after announcing his engagement to his partner, William Nifong, via social media. The couple was eventually married in 2015.
The suit maintains that Collette met all job expectations, and that he was unlawfully fired on the basis of his sex, sexual orientation and marital status. He is asking to be reinstated to his job, and is seeking damages to cover front and back pay; benefits; compensatory and punitive damages; and legal fees.
"My hope is that we can come to some sort of agreement to get me back in church work," Collette said. "That has been my hope all along."
Collette has not gone to work elsewhere since losing his job. He said that, not only is he forbidden from returning to Holy Family, he now cannot work in any Catholic church.
The suit also maintains that Collette did not have a hand in determining liturgical or musical selections at the church. The case could call into question whether he was staff or clergy, and thus which employment discrimination rules apply to his position.
"Holy Family was unique in that there was an incredible amount of lay involvement," Collette noted. "My job was to empower and 'animate' them, to bring my expertise and research to give them what they needed, so that it was part of them and in the spirit of the liturgy of the community."
The complaint alleges that Collette was shown emails written by Cardinal Francis George that said the termination was brought about because Collette entered into a "non-sacramental marriage."
Collette met with George about the matter in late 2014, but neither he nor George subsequently disclosed any results from the meeting; George died in April 2015. In Nov. 2015, the Archdiocese said that it would not be open to mediation over Collette's case.
Collette had previously maintained that, not only was his job performance up to par, but that he and Nifong regularly socialized with Holy Family parishioners and its priest, Terence Keehan, before the termination. He said that he is still friendly with several members.
With changes going on throughout the Catholic church under Pope Francis, Collette added, the case "lines up with everything happening right now. It's time to be talking about this."