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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 111605
Experience:  20+ Years of Employment Law Experience
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I was fired from my job as a church secretary of 4 years because

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I was fired from my job as a church secretary of 4 years because as they quoted saying " because you no longer attend this church and you now attend another church." Is this legal and what should I do now? I was told to train another office staff member (who does attend the church) and then that was my last day. They also told me that I had to "fire" an elderly volunteer because she attended another church as well. There was never any contract or agreement of where I would attend churches when hired. They did not give any other reason to fire me than what was explained above. Also, they do not have unemployment insurance. What's next?
Unfortunately, absent a written contract to the contrary the employees there are at will employees and the employer can terminate them for no cause or for any cause that is not based solely on the age/race/sex/disability of the employee. Thus, the employer can terminate an employee for not attending their church, and while it seems very hypocritical of a religious organization, it is not a violation that the employee could sue for wrongful termination over. Also, because it is a church, the religious discrimination/freedom laws would not be applied, since the courts have held that religious institutions have a right to hire employees who subscribe to the tenants of that institution's beliefs.

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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you PaulMJD,
That actually calmed me a lot. I wanted to confirm that basically my only option would be to sue for wrongful termination? In your experience on this, is it a lengthly and drawn out process? I just wonder if it is worth it or just walk away from this experience a wiser person in the future. I just was wondering as far as California employment law, what my options would be going up against a religious organization. Thank you for your time.
Well, under CA law, if you are an at will employee (one without a written contract to the contrary) you can only sue for "wrongful termination" if your termination was based upon some unlawful discrimination (age/race/sex/disability). As I mentioned previously, they have had numerous cases with religious entities where the courts have not held the discharges to be wrongful when the employee was terminated for not conforming to or participating in that entity's religious belief system (for example, termination of an unmarried employee for becoming pregnant which was against the principles and beliefs of that particular church was held not to be discriminatory or wrongful). The courts give churches a bit more latitude in terminations for religious reasons based upon the right of a church to be free from interference to pursue and teach their own religious beliefs.

Thus, for you not attending their church, the church can say they want to employ only those who attend that church as an employment service to their own congregation and the courts would not find that discriminatory and hence, unless you had a written contract to the contrary you would likely not succeed in any wrongful termination claim.

If your employer paid into unemployment (some religious employers do, but many do not because they are exempt) then your real only recourse here would be to pursue unemployment benefits based upon being fired for no good cause (but just being fired for no good cause is not something that gets you your job back or a claim for wrongful termination since as an at will employee they can terminate you for no good cause).
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