Lonnie Billard was a substitute teacher, and former full-time teacher, at Charlotte Catholic High School, which is operated for religious and educational purposes by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. To teach at Charlotte Catholic, he signed a contract agreeing to uphold teachings of the Catholic Church.
In 2015, Billard entered into a same-sex marriage. Defendants removed Billard from the list of substitute teachers after he made a public Facebook post announcing his marriage to his same-sex partner, an act that contravenes the school’s policy and official Catholic teaching. His post also criticized Catholic teaching, expressing admiration for people “who refused to back down and accept anything but ‘equal.’” After he was removed from the substitute list, Billard sued under Title VII, alleging sex discrimination.
On September 3, 2021, a federal district court in Charlotte, North Carolina, ruled against the high school and the Diocese, finding that the school had committed sex discrimination.
Defendants filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on April 18, 2022. The Center submitted an amicus brief in support of defendants, arguing that the district court erred because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFA) protects the high school’s actions. RFRA prohibits the federal government from imposing a “substantial burden” on religious exercise unless the application of that burden furthers “a compelling governmental interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.” The brief argues that penalizing the defendants for dismissing Billard substantially burdens their religious exercise and cannot satisfy strict scrutiny. The brief also points out that RFRA provides religious employers a defense in employment discrimination suits brought by private parties. Excluding a RFRA defense in private-plaintiff suits – those not brought by a government entity – would undercut RFRA’s purpose.