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Court reinstates sexual harassment claim of former Catholic music director fired after same-sex wedding

Sandor Demkovich was fired in 2014 from his job at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City.

Sandor Demkovich, right, and his partner, Frank Hattula.
Sandor Demkovich, right, and his partner, Frank Hattula.

An appeals court has reinstated the claim of a former Calumet City church music director who sued after saying he was subjected to a hostile work environment because he is gay.

“He was overjoyed,” said Kristina Buchthal Alkass, the attorney who represents the former music director, Sandor Demkovich. “This is not an easy fight for anyone. Being scrutinized in the courts is tough in any kind of case. When you get down to someone’s civil rights and their sexuality, it’s tougher than ever.”

Demkovich, who lives in Whiting, Indiana, was hired as the music director at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City in 2012. Demkovich claims his supervisor, Pastor Jacek Dada, subjected him to relentless harassment, in part, because of his sexual orientation. In September 2014, Demkovich said he was asked to resign when it came to light he’d married his long-term partner, Frank Hattula — a union Dada said was against church teachings. When Demkovich refused to quit, he was fired.

Demkovich sued both the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago. U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang previously dismissed the sexual harassment claim. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled while the First Amendment essentially gives religious organizations the freedom to hire and fire who they please, those same organizations must maintain a workplace free from harassment.

The archdiocese declined to comment on the appeals court ruling. Dada could not be reached for comment.

Demkovich also was not available. Alkass said her client has not worked for a church since his firing; he is employed as a math teacher.

Demkovich told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2016 that he and his partner had become part of the Episcopal church, a place where they felt accepted.

“We’re partners in this. It’s our faith, and our baptism and unfortunately we have to go now where we are welcomed. We are not welcome in the Roman Catholic church,” Demkovich said.