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Zmuda files suit against Eastside Catholic and Seattle Archdiocese

Attorney Richard Friedman, left, and Mark Zmuda, the former vice-principal of Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, listen to questions by reporters at a March 7 press conference at Friedman
Attorney Richard Friedman, left, and Mark Zmuda, the former vice-principal of Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, listen to questions by reporters at a March 7 press conference at Friedman's office.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter

Former Eastside Catholic vice principal, Mark Zmuda, who was fired from the school after it discovered he had married his same-sex partner in the summer of 2013, is suing the Archdiocese of Seattle and Eastside Catholic School.

Zmuda held a press conference Friday, March 7, with his attorney, Richard Friedman. Zmuda, looking a bit nervous, read a prepared statement.

"I am a lifelong Catholic. I choose to believe that Jesus Christ is my savior and I pray everyday. I am a gay man. I did not choose to be gay. I do not see any inconsistency between the teachings of Jesus and being gay. When I moved from Florida to Seattle to take the job at Eastside Catholic High School, I researched the school. On its website it said it did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation."

Zmuda went on to say that his job was satisfying and rewarding, and there was no greater calling for him than the schooling of youth. He also said he believes in marriage, and when Washington state law allowed him to marry his long-time partner, Dana Jergens, he was grateful for the opportunity to make such a solemn commitment.

"I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job," he said. "I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice? I was fired."

He said he understood that homosexuality is hard for some people to accept.

"But an employer should not be allowed to say that it doesn't discriminate and claim it is proud about saying that, and then discriminate anyway," he said.

Friedman said the Archdiocese of Seattle is a defendant in addition to Eastside Catholic because there was pressure put on the school to fire Zmuda. He said they hope to depose Archbishop Peter Sartain.

"The heart of the case is a standard employment issue," Friedman said. "The law is clear that the representation was that they wouldn't discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation."

The suit contains four counts.

Count I, is for tortious interference with business expectancy, in which it states that the Archdiocese does not sponsor or manage Eastside Catholic, nor is the school accredited by the archdiocese. But when it discovered that Zmuda was married it took intentional steps to cause his termination at Eastside Catholic.

Count II is violation of Washington's law against discrimination, which states that Zmuda's job duties at ECS were no different from the job duties of a vice principal at a public school or non-religious private school, discrimination in employment on the basis of marital status is prohibited under state law and ECS's unlawful discrimination directly and proximately caused economic and emotional harm and damages to Zmuda, to be proven at trial.

Count III is breach of implied contract, which states that when Zmuda was hired the school's handbook stated that EC does not discriminate on the basis of any status or condition which is protected by an applicable law. Also, ECS's website stated that it would not discriminate on the basis of an employee or applicant's race, religion, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, or any other status or condition protected by local, state or federal law.

The school removed this statement from its website shortly after Zmuda's termination Dec. 20, 2013.

Count III also says that ECS's termination of Zmuda was based solely on his decision to marry.

The final count is violation of consumer protection act, which states that prospective and current employees considering employment at ECS were aware of the school's non-discriminatory stance, and likewise parents who had chosen to send their kids to ECS were deceived by ECS's statements.

Friedman told reporters that Zmuda had real concern that his career has been ruined.

"Mark didn't want to walk away from this issue, but he didn't pursue it either," Friedman said. "He's confronting it head on."

Zmuda said he has not been able to find a new job, and he is drawing unemployment. He said it's also been incredibly challenging for a couple in its first year of marriage, but he is fully supported by Jergens.

"I'm considered a failure for something I did a pretty darn good job at," Zmuda said.

In a letter to parents from acting board co-chairs Tom Padilla and Brad Bastian, they said "in response to Mr. Zmuda's lawsuit, our attorneys will immediately file a motion to dismiss the complaint. The board is the point of contact for the legal team that represents the school and the insurance company who provides the coverage. As you would expect in a situation such as this, neither the school nor the board are in a position to share details of this pending litigation at this time."

Friedman said it could be one-and-one-half to two years before the case goes to trial, if there is no settlement.

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