Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

A former Catholic high school teacher who says he was stripped of his job in 2013 for marrying his gay partner soon after the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal can take his lawsuit to trial, a Los Angeles judge ruled Monday.

Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner rejected arguments by lawyers for St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora that there were no triable issues in the case brought by Kenneth Bencomo.

Defense attorney Brenda Ligorsky said the decision will be reviewed for a possible appeal.

Bencomo and his husband, Christopher Persky, were one of the first gay couples to marry on July 1, 2013, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Bencomo, now 49, sued St. Lucy’s in March 2014, alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of the state Labor Code and breach of contract.

Attorneys for the school maintained that the lawsuit should have been dismissed on grounds that the school was founded by a Catholic-affiliated organization and has immunity from Bencomo’s claims under the “ministerial exception,” which precludes claims of employment discrimination against a religious institution that are brought by its ministers.

In her ruling, Bachner said it was “beyond dispute that St. Lucy’s … is a religious organization that clear falls within the ministerial exception” and that the school “prides itself on being a Catholic high school” founded by a Catholic religious order.

“Plaintiff was aware that St. Lucy’s was a religious school,” Bachner wrote. “No reasonable jury can find otherwise.”

However, Bencomo produced “substantial” evidence through his course records that he did not teach any religious classes, but instead taught studio art, dance, English and yearbook and magazine courses.

“(St. Lucy’s) never required that faith or religion be used in the classes taught by (Bencomo) because he was not in the religious department,” Bachner wrote. “Furthermore, (Bencomo) never personally led prayers. In his teachings, (he) never relied on or referenced Catholicism.”

The judge also said St. Lucy’s knew Bencomo had a gay partner who regularly attended school events and had been introduced by the plaintiff to other teachers and to nuns, undermining the school’s argument that he had reason to believe he was violating his employment contract with his same-sex marriage.

Bencomo was raised Catholic and graduated from Damien High School, a Catholic all-male school in La Verne. He began teaching at St. Lucy’s in 1998.

—City News Service

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