On the day he filed a lawsuit against the school that fired him, Mark Zmuda praised Eastside Catholic School as continuing to be “an excellent place for children to learn,” and said he sued only because he’d run out of other options.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was to sue the school or the Catholic Church,” said Zmuda, who was dismissed because of his marriage to another man.
“I have been trying since December to reach some resolution of this problem with the school and the church, but that does not seem possible,” Zmuda said Friday.
Zmuda, who was vice principal at the Sammamish school, said he has begun searching for another job in education, but feels hampered by having to tell potential employers that he was fired from his last place of work.
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On Friday, after his lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court, Zmuda delivered a prepared statement and briefly answered reporters’ questions at the offices of his Seattle attorney, Rick Friedman.
Friedman said he scheduled the media session not to argue points of the lawsuit but to respond to media requests for access to Zmuda, who has stayed largely out of the public eye since he lost his job.
“I am a gay man,” Zmuda said. “I did not choose to be gay. I do not see any inconsistency between the teachings of Jesus and being gay.”
Zmuda said he decided to apply for the job at Eastside Catholic after reading on the school’s website that it did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation.
Zmuda said he was shocked and offended when the school offered to let him keep his job if he got a divorce from his partner just a few months after their wedding. “No one should ever be told: Break your most solemn vow and commitment, or give up your job. That’s wrong.”
In a response to the lawsuit, school administrators said Zmuda was called to the office to answer concerns raised by parents and others regarding photos posted on Zmuda’s Facebook page.
Schools officials considered the photos — which Zmuda then removed — inappropriate for a representative of the school and inconsistent with the school’s Catholic faith-based values.
It was at that meeting that Zmuda told school administrators he was gay. Later, after school officials learned he had entered into a same-sex marriage, they told him it was a violation of church doctrine, which his contract required him to uphold.
The precise nature and terms of the contract will be issues in the lawsuit, Friedman said. He estimated that if the case is not settled, dismissed or withdrawn but goes all the way to a trial, the process could take 18 months to two years.
On Friday, the Archdiocese of Seattle said it will ask to be removed as a defendant in the suit. Spokesman Greg Magnoni said the archdiocese believes the school’s action was consistent with Catholic teaching, but said the archdiocese does not direct or manage the independently incorporated Eastside Catholic School.
One focus of attention in the legal case could be whether Zmuda’s job included providing religious teaching. Courts have held churches can discriminate when hiring people into positions advancing their religions.
At Friday’s news conference, Zmuda acknowledged that he led the school’s daily prayer once a month, but said he regarded it a routine task that any teacher at the school would do, and was not specifically providing religious instruction.
In the lawsuit, naming the school and the Archdiocese of Seattle as defendants, Zmuda is seeking unspecified damages for financial loss and damage to his reputation.
Eastside Catholic is asking that the case be dismissed.
Also at the Friday media session, reporters were given copies of a letter from student-government leaders at Seattle University, supporting Zmuda.
“We understand the Church will wrestle with the question of same-sex marriage for years to come. Today, all we ask our fellow Catholic school to consider is to love and treat others as Christ loved and treated others,” said the letter, signed by Student Body President Eric Chalmers and Executive Vice President Mallory Barnes-Ohlson.
Staff reporter Lornet Turnbull contributed to this report.
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