Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Mark Zmuda is going to clean the Seattle Archdiocese's clock

Mark Zumda is the Seattle area Catholic school vice principal who was terminated after he married his partner. This is what used to be on the school's website:
Eastside Catholic School EEO Statement
Click to enlarge

That statement conforms to the non-discrimination laws of the State of Washington. It was removed from the school's website in early January.

Mark Zmuda (left) and Husband
Mark Zmuda (left) and husband
The archdiocese has cited an employment agreement that Zmuda had signed. It said his public behaviors would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. That may be but one cannot wave rights and protections granted under law.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in February that religious nonprofits can be sued for employment discrimination if the employee's job was not related to religion. Zmuda claims his job duties were "wholly unrelated to any religious practice or activity" - no different from the duties of an administrator at a public or nonreligious private school.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain
According to Zmuda's complaint he met with the school's president in late November. The president told Zmuda that he would have to divorce his husband in order to keep his job. The school president also told Zmuda that if he were to divorce his husband, the school would pay the costs of holding a 'commitment ceremony' in place of a wedding. Zmuda claims that the school president claimed that his termination was not her decision but at the direction of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

The archdiocese will ask the court to dismiss Zmuda’s claim against it. According to them, they have no administration or control over the school. They deny any part in the decision to terminate Zmuda. Yet, according to the school's website it is “[a]pproved as a Catholic school by the Archdiocese of Seattle.” Moreover, the school president is not going to perjure herself (she claimed that the termination was at Sartain's direction).

I doubt that the archdiocese is going to get off the hook. There are too many issues of fact that are in dispute. Worst case - Zmuda sues the school. Zmuda is well represented. His lawyer is Richard H. Friedman, a graduate of Harvard Law. Friedman is an accomplished litigator. His peers in Washington named him Trial Lawyer of the Year for 2013.

Mr. Zmuda is due a great deal of compensation in this matter. This will probably conclude with a generous settlement with a non-disclosure requirement. The real shame is that Zmuda's performance has never been in question. A large group of students has petitioned the archdiocese for his reinstatement.
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