By Michael Hill
“Overjoyed with the decision,” said Kate Drumgoole.
A first round win for Drumgoole and Jackie Vanore. Paramus Catholic High School says it fired Drumgoole as girls head basketball coach and guidance dean because she was married to Vanore.
Drumgoole sued and a Bergen County judge has decided the suit should move forward by allowing Drumgoole’s attorneys to collect documents and take testimony from the school and the Archdiocese of Newark. It could lead to a trial and Drumgoole collecting damages from the church.
“We both believe it’s the right decision. We know that it is not the end all but that it is one major step in a very long journey,” Drumgoole said.
At the heart of the case is whether Drumgoole was giving any gospel instruction. The school argues she was and that gave it a First Amendment right to dismiss her. But, her attorneys say she was not and her firing violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and case law already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’re in 2016 now, we’re not in 1855,” said Eric Kleiner, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
But, Rutgers Law Professor Perry Dane says he was surprised by the judge’s decision.
“Frankly, reading the job description myself, I mean at least from my point of view, it seems fairly clear as a guidance counselor this is someone whose job duties included conveying what they call gospel values,” Dane said.
We asked Dane whether other denominations should be concerned about the case setting a precedent.
“If this decision gets affirmed on appeal, if it gets affirmed yet again in New Jersey Supreme Court and if the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case and decides to cut back on some of the autonomy of religious institutions, then it’s going to have a tremendous effect,” he said.
For now, Paramus Catholic alumni — 400 plus — are rallying around Drumgoole in a letter to the school: “Though you have the power to coauthor a narrative of respect, you institutionalize the kind of oppressive worldview that leads students to bully and verbally abuse other students based on their sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation.”
The Newark Archdiocese, Paramus Catholic and its president James Vail and their attorney all declined to comment.
Drumgoole’s attorneys say their discovery may include asking the Newark Archbishop questions under oath.
“Defendant’s designees indicated that they found the conduct to be odious. Well odious is an extremely revolting and repulsive statement because you’re talking about a same-sex relationship that the defendants are finding odious,” Kleiner said.
Discovery that could expose the lifestyles and secrets of other Paramus Catholic employees.
“It’s going to create a big dichotomy. Why is Paramus Catholic and the church enforcing certain violations, but not others?” asked plaintiff’s attorney Larry Kleiner.
Does that run the risk of getting others terminated? “That’s not the goal,” he said.
“An organization who preaches love, this is not love,” Drumgoole said.
Drumgoole and Vanore had just become homeowners before the firing. They say life has been challenging since, but rights are worth fighting for and this fight is more than just about them.