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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Lourdes alum alleges discrimination in coaching search

Lourdes alum alleges discrimination in coaching search

A former Lourdes basketball standout says she was denied the opportunity to coach for her high school alma mater because of her sexual orientation.

Katie Erbe-Shea had been considering a position to coach the Lourdes High School junior varsity women's basketball team. That was up until last Friday when, according to her account, she was informed her "lifestyle choice" prevented her from working for the Catholic school system.

Erbe-Shea, who is lesbian, was told the decision came from Father Peter Schuster, co-chair of the board of trustees for Rochester Catholic Schools.

“I would have never believed in 2018 that they would come back with something like that," Erbe-Shea said in an interview Tuesday.

Erbe-Shea said she had been encouraged to apply for the position by a member of the school's coaching staff. Before she could get the application in, however, the coach told her of the district's position. 

“I was pretty much offered the job," she explained, "and then the next day, I was told I would never be able to coach for them.”

Father Schuster was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Steve Strickland, activities director for Lourdes High School, said the school's policy prohibits him from commenting on personnel issues.

Erbe-Shea played four years of basketball at Lourdes, during which time she helped lead the Eagles to two state titles (1993 and 1995). Her performance on the court later earned her inductions into the Lourdes High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Rochester Quarterbacks Club Sports Hall of Fame

Speaking to us by phone, Erbe-Shea emphasized that she does not believe the athletic department deserves fault for the decision. Instead, she said, it is the Catholic Church as a whole that needs to change.

“What I do in my private life has nothing to do with what kind of coach I would be. I think I would be a great role model for these young girls.”

Is this legal?

While there is no federal law on the books explicitly protecting job applicants from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, some states have adopted laws of their own protecting workers from such discrimination. 

In Minnesota, for example, the Minnesota Human Rights Act does prohibit employment-related discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

However, there are some exemptions for religious organizations.

"How these laws apply to religious institutions is complex," said Rochester attorney David Liebow. "They apply in some ways, but not in others."

Pointing to other cases nationwide, including the recent Supreme Court case involving a Colorado bakery that refused to serve a same-sex couple, Liebow said it's fair to say that the jury is still out when it comes to the balance between religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws.

"There are cases coming up across the country," explained Liebow. "States are enacting laws with different levels of exceptions for religious institutions, and courts are reaching different results on the laws that are out there and on the First Amendment."

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