A teacher who alleges he was fired in 2013 because he married his gay partner soon has settled his lawsuit against the Catholic high school in Glendora where he worked.
Lawyers for plaintiff Kenneth Bencomo of Rancho Cucamonga filed court papers with Judge Monica Bachner on Tuesday stating that his suit against St. Lucy’s Priory High School was resolved. No terms were divulged.
Bencomo and his husband, Christopher Persky, were among 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 50, 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.
During a February 2017 hearing, attorneys for the school argued for dismissal of the lawsuit, saying that the school was founded by a Catholic-affiliated organization and had 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.
But in her ruling denying the dismissal motion, Bachner said it was “beyond dispute that St. Lucy’s … is a religious organization that clearly 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.”
Bencomo maintained his course records showed he did not teach any religious classes, but instructed instead in 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 by entering a 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.
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