Gay ex-Holy Family music director files discrimination claims

The longtime music director at the Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, who was fired after announcing on Facebook his engagement to his male partner, filed discrimination complaints against the church Thursday in a bid to get his old job back.

Colin Collette alleges he was discriminated against based on his sex, sexual orientation and marital status in complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, according to his attorney, Kerry Lavelle.

The complaints name Holy Family's pastor, the Rev. Terence Keehan, and parish manager Rosemary Geisler as parties responsible for the discriminatory firing, according to Lavelle.

“It is with deep regret that I have to pursue this course of action,” Collette told reporters at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows Thursday afternoon. “I chose to do so only after multiple efforts of resolving the issue with open dialogue with the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago failed.”

Geisler declined to comment, referring questions to the archdiocese.

Susan G. Burritt, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in a statement Thursday the archdiocese has not seen Collette's complaints and could not comment on them.

“We will respond to the complaints in the forums in which they are filed at the appropriate time,” Burritt said.

Kristina Regal, another attorney for Collette, said Holy Family has 30 days to respond to the allegations. Collette would end the legal proceedings if allowed to return to work at Holy Family or another parish, she said.

Holy Family fired Collette over the summer, shortly after he posted an announcement of his engagement to his longtime partner and accompanying photos. At the time of his firing, Collette had worked at the church for 17 years and was a popular figure in the parish community.

That popularity showed in the weeks that followed, as dozens of parish members spoke in his favor at a town-hall meeting held soon after Collette's firing become public knowledge, as well as at a prayer vigil outside Holy Family organized on his behalf.

Several members of the parish stood behind Collette as he addressed the media Thursday afternoon.

Dolores Siok, a member of Holy Family for more than 25 years, said Collette's firing has driven a wedge down the middle of the congregation.

“It has divided the parish tremendously,” Siok said. “Being there for 25 years I would walk in and be welcomed by so many. Now I walk in and they kind of turn their head because they know you are in the other camp.”

Regal said Collette's attorneys are pursuing all available remedies.

“This is the first case that we know about where someone has been terminated for entering into a legal gay marriage, so we're testing new law,” she said.

Collette met with former Archbishop Cardinal Francis George in September, but Lavelle said further attempts by her client to meet with George and new Archbishop Blase Cupich have been rejected by the church.

Lavelle said Collette is not trying to harm the church but make it better.

“Colin loves the Catholic Church. This is a way to try to improve the Catholic Church,” Lavelle said. “(The improvement) will happen with time. We are sad that it has to be Colin's case that gets us to this point. Eventually this will all be acceptable behavior in the Catholic Church.”

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Colin Collette, who lost his job at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness after publicly announcing his engagement to his male partner, filed discrimination complaints against the church Thursday, his lawyer said. COURTESY OF ABC 7 CHICAGO
  Kerry Lavelle, a Palatine attorney representing Colin Collette, addresses reporters at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows Thursday afternoon. Doug T. Graham/
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