A gay music teacher was forced to resign from a Lutheran school in Iowa earlier this year after someone hacked his phone and posted personal information about him to Facebook.
Matthew Gerhold was hired by Valley Lutheran High School in Cedar Valley last summer as the school’s music teacher. According to state records, he informed school officials at that time that he was gay.
The Lutheran school believed his “sexuality needed to be kept a secret,” according to a judge who recently presided over a public hearing on Gerhold’s request for unemployment benefits. The school hired him, the judge found, on the condition that he refrain from sharing information about his sexual orientation with students, and that he refrain from dating while employed at the school.
In January of this year, Gerhold contacted his superiors to report that his phone had been hacked and someone was attempting to blackmail him by threatening to share information about his sexuality with his friends, family and employer.
Shortly after Gerhold reported the alleged blackmail attempt, information about him – including photos of some kind — was posted to the school’s Facebook page. Gerhold was then summoned to the administration offices and placed on leave.
According to state records, he then went to his classroom and visited with the school’s head pastor, who was also a board member at the school. The pastor allegedly told Gerhold he would be fired after an upcoming board meeting, and that it would be better for all concerned if he would just quit. Gerhold resigned later that evening.
He later applied for, and was granted, unemployment benefits. The school appealed the decision, which resulted in a hearing on May 2 before Administrative Law Judge Blair Bennett.
Bennett ruled that Gerhold was eligible for benefits because he had committed no workplace misconduct that would disqualify him from eligibility. He hadn’t publicly shared any information about his sexual orientation, Bennett found, and there was no evidence to suggest that the “timeframe of the pictures” that were posted to Facebook were evidence of any other violation of his agreement with the school.
The school’s “argument breaks down to (Gerhold) being told he would no longer have a job because of the actions of a third party, not controlled by (Gerhold), completely outside of work,” Bennett ruled. The evidence, she ruled, had failed to establish that Gerhold was discharged for any act of misconduct, and that his forced resignation was entirely related to a third party who had “maliciously” shared personal information about him without his consent.
School officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Gerhold told the Iowa Capital Dispatch on Wednesday that he filed a police report in the case, but authorities indicated they don’t have the resources or tools to trace the source of the blackmail threats.
He said while he recognizes the school has state and federal protections with regard to discrimination against non-heterosexuals, he takes issue with the school’s actions — including the fact that he was told to keep his sexual identity “a secret and not pursue a relationship” with anyone. He said although he was told everyone in the faculty and administration was part of a family that cares for one another, he was “dismissed for something I didn’t have control over.”
Gerhold said the school and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as a whole see “homosexuals as a problem that must be swept under the rug quietly and discreetly. They simply don’t see sexual orientation as involuntary attraction to one sex or another, they see sexuality as choices, whether they admit that or not. I wasn’t the first gay man the church has done this to, and I won’t be the last because the church doesn’t want to listen to understand my story or background. They are only listening and waiting to respond to it with pick-and-choose theology.”
Gerhold said he loves teaching and introducing to others the joy of music.
“My sexual identity has absolutely nothing to do with my career in music and my love for music,” he said. “If the church as a whole doesn’t want to use me for whatever they are striving to achieve, then I shall go somewhere else that would love to have me to live out my vocation for others.”
More unemployment cases
Other Iowans whose unemployment-benefit claims were recently decided after a public hearing include:
— Tina Miner, who worked for Bridges Community Services from December 2021 through January 2022, when she was fired. As part of her job, Miner traveled to nursing homes to provide mental health counseling for the elderly residents, and was responsible for filling out forms used to bill for those services.
One of the bills she submitted was rejected because the man she claimed to have counseled was dead at the time. Bridges then conducted an investigation and allegedly uncovered fraudulent billings for services that Miner had falsely claimed to have provided to 17 nursing home residents. For each of the 17 residents, she had allegedly provided a false set of detailed notes about the services she claimed to have provided.
Bridges also determined that Miner had an outstanding warrant for her arrest due to the alleged theft of resident property. An administrative law judge recently denied Miner’s request for unemployment benefits, ruling that she was fired for workplace misconduct. According to the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science, Miner’s social-work license is in good standing with no history of discipline.
— Ann Prince, who was fired in February from the nursing home chain ABCM Corp., for whom she worked as an activities assistant. According to state records, after the company instituted a vaccination requirement for all employees, Prince was granted a religious exemption.
In order to keep working in a nursing home while unvaccinated, however, Prince was required to avoid large group settings, and wear a mask when out in public during non-work hours. She also was required to submit to COVID-19 testing before each shift, sanitize her hands, and maintain some distance from staff and residents. Prince objected, believing the requirements would force her to miss her child’s participation in high school sports.
Administrative Law Judge Blair Bennett awarded Prince unemployment benefits, ruling that the company “created unreasonable policies that had the effect of excluding claimant from watching her child play high school sports whether or not she wore a mask. Additionally, the employer’s policy would have required constant hand sanitizing and being masked at all times when away from home.”
— Tamara Powell, who was fired in February from ACP of Delaware, a Cedar Rapids company that sells cooking equipment. State records indicate Powell was a cost accountant for the company. She was fired after admitting she had used her cell phone to surreptitiously record several hours of her supervisor’s private conversations with other employees. She said she did so out of concern that other workers were saying things about her after she reported that some employees were not complying with COVID-19 mitigation protocols. She was denied unemployment benefits.