Michael Califano outside St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre in...

Michael Califano outside St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre in December. He is seeking reinstatement at the school, along with back pay and unspecified damages. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former third grade teacher at Maria Regina Catholic School in Seaford, who alleges he was terminated last year after his supervisors were alerted to pictures on social media of him kissing his longtime boyfriend, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The suit, filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the Catholic school and the diocese, both named defendants, unlawfully terminated Michael Califano in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Califano, 27, who is gay and who had worked at Maria Regina for two years teaching math and English, is seeking reinstatement at the school, along with back pay and unspecified damages.

On Friday, Califano, who is now working as a substitute teacher at Wantagh High School, declined to comment on the suit. He directed calls to Brendan Tighe, his Rego Park-based attorney, who declined to comment.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese did not respond to requests for comment.

The diocese last year said it did “not end Mr. Califano’s employment over his sexuality,” declining to elaborate.

Califano contends he was fired in December after pictures from his boyfriend's Facebook page — showing the two men kissing — were shared by an anonymous whistleblower with the Most Rev. John O. Barres, bishop of the diocese. Califano said his own Facebook page is private and that he never discusses his sexuality in the classroom.

Califano said he was called into a meeting with the school's pastor and the head of human resources for the diocese, who told him he was not following a “Catholic lifestyle and Catholic ethics” based on the church handbook and that his employment had been terminated.

The lawsuit contends the diocese would not have terminated Califano if he was kissing a female or if his sexual preference was for women.

“Defendants discriminated against [Califano] for being gay,” the suit states. “Defendants intentionally discriminated against plaintiff, in part, because of sex. As a result of defendant’s wrongful conduct, plaintiff has suffered, and will continue to suffer, irreparable injury, lost wages and benefits, other monetary damages, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation, and other compensable damages.”

Califano and his family have deep ties to Maria Regina.

Not only did he attend the school, but so did his late father — a Nassau County police officer who died in the line of duty more than a decade ago with whom he shares a name. The younger Califano also previously served as an altar server, Eucharistic minister and director of the school’s annual musical production.

Days after Califano's termination, more than 100 parents, students and colleagues rallied in front of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, urging the church to reinstate the teacher. Several parents said they'd pull their children from the school if the diocese did not reinstate Califano. An online petition, urging the diocese to reverse its position, garnered more than 28,000 signatures.

In an op-ed posted last week in Commonweal magazine, a liberal Catholic journal, Califano said he remains a devout Catholic who just wants his job back.

“I want to be back in my classroom with my kids,” he wrote. “As I told my students at an emotional Mass after the firing, God did not do this to me. I do not want my story to be a reason why anyone would turn their back on our faith. I only hope that one day all will be welcome in the church that I have always loved.”

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