District Says Teacher Was Not Fired For Sexual Orientation - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

District Says Teacher Was Not Fired For Sexual Orientation

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A former teacher who said she was fired for being gay said she was told Tuesday night that she was fired for a spousal relationship, rather than her sexual orientation.

Former Bishop Watterson physical education teacher Carla Hale met with principal Marian Hutson Tuesday night after Hale was fired for what was referred to as her written spousal relationship.

Hale said Hutson told her the grievance documents support termination, saying that Hale was not terminated for being gay, but for the relationship that was publicized in a newspaper obituary.

Hale said she had taken her older brother's advice to include her partner's name while writing her mother's obituary about an hour after she had died.

"When we got back to the house we told Julie what we had done. She instantly questioned me and said are you sure you want to do this," said Hale.

Hale says it was the first time their relationship was out there for the public.

A week later, the Bishop Watterson High School gym teacher and coach says she was called to the principal's office where she saw the anonymous letter a parent had sent to the Catholic Diocese of Columbus. The letter stated how appalled the parent was seeing a woman's name in the obituary next to Hale's.

"It is kind of baffling that someone would take an obituary and use it in such a mean-spirited manner," she said.

According to Hale's attorney, a student at the school had asked her mother to pray for Hale because she had recently lost her mother. The student's mother then noticed the obituary, and wrote an anonymous letter to the Catholic Diocese of Columbus. Hale was later fired a week and a half later, on Holy Thursday, March 28.

Hale said she was in shock.

"I literally could not sit down. I was holding on to the back of the chair and looking at her and reading this termination letter and could not even grasp it," said Hale with her partner Julie Uncapher by her side.

Hale says students went on spring break when she was terminated. When they returned, Hale believes students were told a lie, "the next day my classes were told that I was extremely sick and that I would be out all week."

Hale says a fellow teacher told students the truth.

After 19 years with the school, Carla Hale had been fired by the Catholic Diocese of Columbus for "being immoral."

"In today's times there are very few individuals living the old Catholic doctrine," said Hale referring to Catholic staff members who are divorced, using birth control, or involved in extramarital affairs.

Hale said the grievance meeting Tuesday night lasted less than five minutes and has her on an emotional roller coaster.

"I go from extremely down and depressed to stop feeling sorry for yourself, look at everything that is going on in the world and this is happening for a reason," Hale said.

Hale said she is reluctant to be the face of someone who was fired for being gay. But, she said, the support she has received locally and the more than 52,000 signatures on a petition on the web site Change.org pushes her forward.

"I have to be supporting all those standing up on my behalf," Hale said. "We will get through it one phase, one step, one day at a time, and hopefully on the other side of it, it will all make sense."

During phase two of the grievance process, Hale has one week to submit her grievance in writing to the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators grievance committee.

Hale's attorney, Tom Tootle said they will file a complaint with Columbus' community relations committee, which investigates cases of discrimination that violate the city's civil rights code.

In Columbus, there is a municipal ordinance that was passed in 2008 that protects people from being fired for their sexual orientation, and there are no exceptions in that ordinance for religious institutions.

"We bring the complainant in and get their side of the story, the same thing with the respondent, and there may be several people or one person," said Executive Director Napoleon Bell II, of the Community Relations Commission.

Once the investigation is complete, it moves to the full commission. If there is probable cause, a hearing is called.

If there is enough evidence of discrimination, the full commission can recommend the case to the city attorney's office.

The entire process could take four to six months, but could end if Hale and the Diocese agree to mediation.

But is Hale's case strong enough to proceed through the courts?

"Often times, anti-discrimination laws contain provisions that say these rules are general rules of applicability that prohibit discrimination on various basis, but if there's a particular type of religious reason or justification for the discrimination, then the anti-discrimination may not apply," said Marc Spindelman, law professor at the Ohio State University Mortiz College of Law.

Spindelman said Hale's case has several markers that make it possible for the Ohio Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Hale said she hopes her outing helps other young people who are worried about their own sexual orientation.

"Hopefully they are seeing the support and love that is out there, and it is reassuring them regardless of their sexual orientation. We … all deserve the same equalities, and the world is changing," she said. "I love my job. I don't want money. I don't want fame. I simply want to return to Bishop Watterson."

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

Personnel matters remain confidential by policy of the Diocese of Columbus and thus cannot be discussed in specific terms by diocesan staff, even cases that are working their way through grievance procedures and/or have gained significant publicity.  However, what can be said in general terms is that all Catholic school personnel at the outset of their employment agree that they will abide by the rules, regulations, and policies of the Catholic Diocese, including respecting the moral values advanced by the teachings of Christ.  The Catholic Church respects the fundamental dignity of all persons but also must insist that those in its employ respect the tenets of the Church.  Personnel who choose to publicly espouse relationships or principles that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church cannot, ultimately, remain in the employ of the Church.

On Sunday afternoon, supporters of Carla Hale plan to hold a rally outside of Bishop Watterson High School to send a message to the Catholic Church requesting that she be reinstated.

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