In the uproar that followed the move by Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic prep school in Macon, to fire gay band director and music teacher Flint Dollar last month due to his plans to marry his partner, one word flew around more than any other in subsequent comment sections and conversations—“lawsuit.”
The talk about Dollar filing suit against the school picked up even more after the GA Voice revealed in an interview with Dollar that the school had signed him to a new contract on May 1—just weeks before his May 21 firing.
But there are several factors working against Dollar in this case, none bigger than the fact that Mount de Sales is a private religious school. The GA Voice obtained a copy of Dollar’s contract and had several employment attorneys with expertise in LGBT issues review it along with the details of his dismissal to see if there is any legal recourse.
SCHOOL’S RIGHT TO FIRE ‘AT WILL’
Gregory Nevins, senior attorney with Lambda Legal, says Dollar could have a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
“Presumably, female employees of the school have married men and not been fired, so his firing is because of his male gender,” Nevins tells the GA Voice.
Nevins referenced TerVeer v. Billington, which was a unique federal court ruling in that it said Title VII could be used to protect gay people from employment discrimination. Lambda Legal filed a brief in support of TerVeer’s claim last April, and the ruling, which allows the case to move forward, came down in his favor this past March.
Alex Reed, an assistant law professor at the University of Georgia, does not see a basis for a breach of contract lawsuit for Dollar.
He references a section of Dollar’s contract that lists “immorality” as a cause that the school can dismiss him for, and the school could conceivably argue that his sexual orientation is as an example of such a breach.
Reed also cites a provision in the contract under “Duties and Responsibilities” which states that Dollar agreed “to support and carry out the philosophy of the School and to abide by its rules and policies as set forth in the Faculty and Student Handbooks in effect during the term of contract.”
In other words, if the philosophy of the school is to abide by the Catholic Church’s teachings, then they could try to make the case that Dollar’s sexual orientation did not follow those teachings.
Reed did leave the door open for Dollar to make what’s called an estoppel argument.
“Estoppel is a legal doctrine that prevents someone from asserting a claim or right that contradicts what they have said or done in the past, i.e., the school’s indicating to Mr. Dollar that it did not have an issue with his homosexuality or with the fact that he was planning to marry his partner and then ostensibly changing its mind and deciding that it did take issue with Mr. Dollar’s homosexuality and marriage plans,” Reed explains.
However, Reed says a “Waiver of Breach” section of the contract would preclude such an argument.
Jay Rollins, a partner at the employment law firm Schwartz Rollins, says the contract Dollar signed allows the school to fire him “at will.”
“Even though it then goes on to state certain circumstances that would constitute cause, that list is not all inclusive,” Rollins tells the GA Voice. “Ultimately, the school reserves to itself the right to fire ‘at will’ without notice. Mr. Dollar would have a very weak contract claim.”
EQUAL PROTECTION WORKING BOTH WAYS
In a cruel twist, the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution—which was in large part the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Prop 8 and a major portion of the Defense of Marriage Act last June—provides Mount de Sales protection to fire Dollar for his sexual orientation because it is a private religious school.
And what if there were a state or federal employment non-discrimination law in place that covered sexual orientation?
As Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham pointed out in a previous GA Voice article, and with which Reed concurs, the school would still be within their rights to fire Dollar—again because they are a private religious school.
Dollar has confirmed he has been talking to several parties about his legal options. But it appears the law is working against him in this case and those options are running out. Worse, the case is providing a road map for other institutions for how to fire their LGBT employees without fear of any consequences.
Flint Dollar is interviewed for a job at Mount de Sales Academy, where he discloses that he is gay. Dollar is hired shortly thereafter as band director and music teacher.
Dollar informs the administration that he is planning on marrying his partner the following July.
May 1, 2014
The school renews Dollar’s contract for another year.
May 21, 2014
School President David Held calls Dollar into his office on the final day of school and fires him, citing his impending marriage as the sole reason for the dismissal.
- Three members of the Mount de Sales Academy board of trustees resigned in the wake of the school’s firing of Dollar.
- Dollar was among nine fired Catholic gay and gay-friendly school teachers who signed a letter sent May 27 requesting a meeting with Pope Francis to talk about what happened to them.
- The “Save Flint Dollar” Facebook page has more than 2,500 likes . The “Reconsider the termination of Mr. Flint Dollar” petition on Change.org has more than 3,700 supporters.
- Dollar is asking supporters that in lieu of wedding gifts for him and his partner that they donate money to the Mount de Sales band for new uniforms.
- Dollar’s wedding is scheduled for July 12 in Minneapolis.