Holy Family music director fired over same-sex marriage sues in federal court
The former music director at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness has filed a federal lawsuit against the church and Archdiocese of Chicago, alleging they unlawfully fired him in 2014 after he publicly announced his engagement to his male partner over Facebook.
Colin Collette, who worked at Holy Family for 17 years, seeks reinstatement to his position, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages. The suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Collette's lawyer, Kerry Lavelle, said his client remains very supportive of the Catholic Church and its teachings.
"He's just very confused and he cannot believe that the church discriminates to this degree against this community," Lavelle said. "We believe collectively that Colin's case will help improve the church tremendously if he prevails."
Collette will not comment on the lawsuit, Lavelle said.
The suit alleges the church and archdiocese violated the federal Civil Rights Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance when it terminated Collette's employment on July 27, 2014.
An Archdiocesan spokesperson said the Archdiocese does not comment on pending litigation. A representative from Holy Family did not return a call for comment.
Collette's nine-page federal complaint states that he was told he was fired for "entering into a 'non-sacramental marriage.'" A letter from Cardinal Francis George published in the church bulletin in October 2014 states Collette was dismissed for his "participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the Church."
However, the suit contends, the parish and Archdiocese of Chicago employ many heterosexuals who have entered "non-sacramental" marriages not sanctioned by the Catholic Church. An example of a "non-sacramental" marriage is one that was not performed in a Catholic church, according to Collette's representatives.
"We have felt strongly since Colin was dismissed in 2014 that the actions of Holy Family Parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago were blatantly discriminatory," Kristina Regal, an attorney for Collette, said in an announcement of the lawsuit. "It is because he is gay and pursued his right to marry under state and federal law that he was dismissed."
Lavelle said Collette chose to file the federal suit after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declined to rule on a complaint he filed with the agency in December 2014. Collette is awaiting a ruling on a similar complaint with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights.
Collette's firing divided the church community. Large crowds, many of them in support of Collette and opposed to his dismissal, turned out at subsequent parish events held to address his situation.
Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for Lavelle Law, said Collette has always said he just wants to go back to work.
"He holds the church very close to him and just wants to be a part of it," Mitchell said. "He just wants the opportunity, that's all he's asking for."
Collette and his partner were married last July in Rome, Mitchell said.