Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dishonesty and Discrimination at a Catholic Prep School

Matt Tedeschi
One of the stories that I did not get around to this week is the that of Matt Tedeschi. Tedeschi was a popular religion and French teacher at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. Having worked at the school for four years Tedeschi was slated for tenure. Tedeschi was terminated for “teaching while gay.”

This all started when a student found Tedeschi's online dating profile and then started sharing screenshots. Some students harassed their teacher. One young genius tweeted Tedeschi,  threatening to expose him. The school sent a very strong message about extortion by giving the kid two Saturdays of detention. Way to go.

This all culminated in Tedeschi's dismissal. The dating profile was dignified and did not mention Tedeschi's employer. School administrators reportedly told Tedeschi that he was terminated for posting photos online and other unrelated issues. Sure. That is why the school attempted to coerce Tedeschi into signing a nondisclosure agreement. Why would they need that unless they feared that they were on shaky legal grounds? He declined to sign the agreement and was, therefore, denied his salary for the remainder of the year. That might fall under retaliation. For example, the Cook County nondiscrimination ordinance provides:
No person shall retaliate against any person because that person in good faith has opposed that which he or she reasonably believed to be unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, or other violation of this Ordinance or has made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this Ordinance.
Even if the charge of discrimination does not hold up for some reason, Tedeschi's good faith belief that he was fired for being gay is probably sufficient to sustain a charge of retaliation. Had he signed the agreement he might have been denied an exploration of his legal options which was presumably the intent of the agreement — enforceable or not.

 As a general proposition, a ministerial exemption applies to nondiscrimination laws. A few years ago, in San Francisco, the Church attempted to force teachers into contracts that artificially designated them as ministers. The backlash was severe, the intent perfectly obvious and the Church backed off. In this case, Illinois, Cook County and the City of Chicago all have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. All three provide for suits against employers and individuals which includes sexual harassers.

The school can be held accountable for the harassment by students. Using the Cook County ordinance as an example:
An employer may also be responsible for the acts of non-employees, with respect to sexual harassment of employees in the workplace, where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
The only discrimination that is permitted under these laws is to preference Catholic applicants for employment. Other than that they are expected to comply, just like everyone else. We always hear about a quest for special rights from the very people who seek them.

According to the school's website:
What is Diversity at Saint Ignatius?

Diversity is more than skin deep. Although most people assume that diversity refers to addressing issues for people of non-Caucasian background, ethnicity is one aspect of diversity. The umbrella of diversity refers to issues with regard to ethnicity, race, language, religion, gender, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, body image, appearance, personality, intellectual ability, physical ability, and political beliefs.
Does that not pertain to staff?

There is more than a small measure of hypocrisy at work here. They expect the law to protect them from religious discrimination. Yet they violate the law at will.

Meanwhile I intend to file a referral with the Internal Revenue Service today. At some point, the sanctimonious priests decided that they would tell the IRS that the school is actually a church and have avoided filing a Form 990 tax return. Did I mention the quest for special rights? The St. Ignatius Jesuit Community isn't even in the same zip code. According to the IRS Business Master File the entity is identified as St. Ignatius College with a sort (basically a DBA) of St. Ignatius High School. None of that is accurate.

The school's president, Fr. Michael Caruso SJ, has not responded to an email inquiry. At this point, attorneys for the archdiocese are probably controlling any communications relating to this matter.

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