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|Gay teacher's complaint
against Catholic school
should not be dismissed
Payne-Elliott v. Archdiocese of
Indianapolis (Indiana Ct App 11/23/2021)
Sent to Custom Alerts™
subscribers on 11/23/2021
Payne-Elliott was a language and
social studies teacher at Cathedral High School – an
Archdiocese-affiliated Catholic church.
terminated his teaching contract, he alleged as follows: (1) he is
a homosexual male, who has been in a same-sex marriage since 2017;
(2) he was under a teaching contract at Cathedral in the 2019-2020
calendar year; (3) the Archdiocese issued a directive, wherein
Cathedral was required to adopt and enforce morals clause language
used in teacher contracts at Archdiocese-recognized schools, was
required to discontinue its employment of any teacher in a public,
same-sex marriage, and could forfeit being formally recognized as
a Catholic school in the Archdiocese by failing to comply with the
directive; and (4) Cathedral subsequently terminated
The trial court dismissed
Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit, but the Indiana Court of Appeals
reversed. The trial court erred in granting the Archdiocese’s
motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
It was wrong for the trial court to dismiss the case prior to
completing discovery on two key issues: (1) whether
Payne-Elliott’s job duties as a teacher at an
Archdiocese-affiliated school rendered him a “minister”; or (2)
whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applies to the
It was also wrong to dismiss the case on the basis
that Payne-Elliott’s court complaint did not state a legal claim.
Pleading rules are relatively liberal. Here, the pleading was
legally sufficient. The Court of Appeals could not conclude that
Payne-Elliott’s allegations "present no possible set of facts upon
which the complainant can recover." Although the complaint might
indicate that the Archdiocese has a possible meritorious defense
(freedom of association, the doctrine of church autonomy, and the
ministerial exception), that does not render Payne-Elliott’s
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