A suburban Cook County gay man filed an employment discrimination complaint Dec. 4 with the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, claiming that he was wrongfully fired from his church job after announcing through social media that he was marrying his longtime partner.
The complaint was announced at Cook County Third Municipal District Courthouse in Rolling Meadows.
Colin Collette was musical director at Holy Family Catholic Parish in Inverness. He and his partner, William Nifong, were vacationing in Europe when they became engaged and announced the occasion on Facebook. When they returned home, however, Collette was informed that he was being let go from his position. Since then, Collette has been trying to get his job back.
"It is with deep regret that I have to pursue this course of action, and I choose to do so only after multiple efforts at resolving the issue through open dialogue with the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago failed," Collette said Dec. 4, reading from a prepared statement. "It has been my desire, and remains so, to return to my ministry at Holy Family or at another parish in the Archdiocese. It appears that the church has closed her doors to me, and after 17 years of service at Holy Family, and six years of service at St. James, I find myself at this unfortunate juncture."
The complaints claiming discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and marital status, named Fr. Terence Keehan, pastor of Holy Family, and Rosemary Geisler, its parish manager, as the parties responsible for Collette's firing. Collette maintains that Keehan showed him two emails from Cardinal Francis George; the first instructed Keehan to, "deal with this," while another referenced the firing as happening because Collette was about to enter a "non-sacramental marriage."
Collette met with George shortly after the firing, but both sides agreed to keep what happened during that meeting private. Collette's attorney, Kerry Lavelle, said that he previously had been engaged in talks with Archdiocese lawyers, but those talks ground to a halt, and he was ultimately informed that the church was unwilling to reach a compromise on the matter. Lavelle additionally maintained that Archbishop Blase Cupich had been apprised of the situation, but has not reached out on the matter.
"They said there would be no resolution," Lavelle added. "We heard that loud and clear."
The case, if not resolved quickly, promises to test the limits of the state's gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws, which contain certain exemptions for churches. But Lavelle told Windy City Times that Collette's case is about the church depriving Collette of the right to marry.
"There are cases going back to the 1960s saying being married is a human right," he said, adding that Collette and Nifong's relationship was well-known throughout the Holy Family community. "We will see how the case proceeds."