Harrison County, Indiana, officials are being sued in federal court by a former employee of the county clerk’s office who claims she was fired after refusing to process a same-sex marriage license.
The plaintiff, Linda Summers, alleges that her First Amendment rights were rights were violated when she was fired in December. The lawsuit was filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana at New Albany on July 17.
This case comes amidst various stories of country clerks—including at least two in Kentucky—refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples following this summer’s landmark Supreme Court ruling lifting states’ bans.
But Summers’ case is different. She was never an elected county clerk—just an employee of one.
Her attorney claimed that that’s a substantial distinction.
“I think an election official is in a different position where they are answerable to the voters for enforcing the law that they have sworn to uphold as an elected official,” said attorney Richard Masters of Masters, Mullins and Arrington in Louisville.
Masters said Summers had the right to exercise her religious beliefs. He calls the case a “garden variety employment discrimination case.” Masters said the defendant in the case, Harrison County Clerk Sally Whitis, could have accommodated Summers’ religious beliefs and had someone else in the office process licenses.
Whitis fired Summers instead, the lawsuit alleges.
“We are alleging that Ms. Summers’ rights to the free exercise of her religious beliefs, which she sincerely holds that led to her termination, is a violation of title seven of the civil rights act,” Masters said.
Summers is suing for past and future earnings, wages, bonuses and other benefits that she would have gotten if she kept her job. She is also seeking punitive damages.
The defendants, which include Harrison County, have about a month to respond.
Whitis said she’s been advised to not comment on the case.
Same-sex marriage started in Kentucky this summer following the Supreme Court’s ruling, but appeals court judges lifted the ban in Indiana and several other states last year.