The firing of a physical education teacher from her job at a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio, could be a violation of a city ordinance.
Carla Hale, 57, worked at Bishop Watterson High School for 19 years. She says school officials handed her a letter from an anonymous parent who had clipped Hale's mother’s obituary. Beside Hale’s name was the name of her female domestic partner. The parent was outraged that Hale would be allowed to teach at the school.
"I was totally shocked," Hale said. "I mean, I think it was just one of those where everything was drained out of me."
When she was fired on March 28, her dismissal notice explicitly referred to her same-sex relationship as the basis of her termination.
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Students and other supporters rallied around Hale, starting an online petition to have her job reinstated, which now has more than 10,500 signatures. The petition asks the diocese of Columbus to “reinstate faculty member Carla Hale and apologize for discriminating against her on the basis of sexuality.”
A contract between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators establishes that teachers can be terminated on the grounds of immorality or serious unethical conduct.
The school found Hale in violation of Diocesan Policy 45116.1, stating that Catholic school personnel will set an example of moral behavior, upholding the rules of the Catholic faith. The Church does not support homosexual lifestyles and teaches that people who feel they are attracted to the same sex must never act on those feelings.
There is a city ordinance in Columbus making it illegal for any employer to discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. It carries up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
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"We're fortunate in Columbus to have a municipal ordinance that was passed in 2008 that does protect people and there are no exceptions in that ordinance for religious institutions," said her attorney, Tom Tootle.
Catholic school teachers can even be terminated if they get a divorce.
"There probably honestly wouldn't be a lot of teachers working here because if you go there, the Catholic Church doesn't promote divorce, living with a heterosexual partner out of marriage, birth control," Hale said, noting that many of her coworkers could be fired under the same morality clause.
“If we really want to open up that door ... where do you start and finish if you’re talking about immoral behavior within the Catholic Church?” Hale asked.