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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 118788
Experience:  JA Mentor -Attorney Labor/employment, corporate, sports law, admiralty/maritime and civil rights law
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After years of devoted service, my girlfriend was "fired"

Customer Question

Hi Pearl,After years of devoted service, my girlfriend was "fired" last week by the director of our local SPCA. Why? She rubbed some staff members wrong. The real reason? She loved the dogs too much, contributing thousands of $ to buy blankets, beds, squeeky toys and treats. She worked tirelessly, doing laundry, cleaning rooms and consulting with potential owners about the "right dog" for them. Dozens of people returned to thank her personally. I told her to make a list of everything she has done and meet with the director one-on-one. But, she's afraid. In previous meetings, they gang up on her. "This time," I said, "bring a lawyer."
JA: Because employment law varies from place to place, can you tell me what state this is in?
Customer: New York
JA: Has anything been filed or reported?
Customer: Two staff members filed complaints.
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: Since having to retire from teaching (30 years) because of fibromyalgia, volunteering has filled her life with joy. She cares about every dog individually and spends her evenings checking online to see who's new, who's been adopted or returned. It has given her a new purpose in life and improved our 18 year relationship because when she's happy, I'm happy. This is a devasting blow...for both of us.
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 10 months ago.
Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking for educational purposes only.
Under NY law, absent a written contract to the contrary, employment is deemed to be at will. An at will employee may be terminated for no reason at all or for any reason not based only on the age/race/sex/disability/national origin of the employee. If an at will employee is terminated, then they are eligible for filing for unemployment, that is their sole legal right.
Thus, the only recourse she has is contacting the director and asking for the director to reconsider and if the director will not reconsider, I am afraid she then has to prove the only reason she was terminated was her age/race/sex/disability/national origin and then she would have to file a complaint with the EEOC who would have to investigate to grant her a right to sue letter.
Please do not forget to leave positive feedback by clicking on the 5 stars at the top of your page , as the experts are not employees of the site and get no credit for spending time with customers unless they leave positive feedback. Thank you.
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
She's a volunteer. Except for speaking legalese, you were not helpful. Waste of money and time. Want refund!
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 10 months ago.

Thank you for your reply.

To put it clearly for you then, since you did not tell me she was a volunteer nor did you give me much more useful information to base my answer on, she was a volunteer, she has no legal rights. A volunteer can be removed for no reason at all or any reason and she has no rights. That means simply she cannot sue and has no right to be allowed to volunteer again.

I hope that was clearer for you and did not mean to confuse you with "leagalese."

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
you think this is being helpful? I want to know what OTHER volunteers in this EXACT situation in SPCA's around the country have done.
Surely since, as you said they "have no rights", issues have come up before. Did they boycott? Did they picket? Did they succeed in getting staff people removed? There must be previous cases..........that LAWYERS handled
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 10 months ago.

Thank you for your reply.

Volunteers in the same situation have had to go away once they were removed because there was no law giving them any right to do anything with the SPCA. Some of these volunteers went out and started their own animal shelters and animal rescue services separate from the SPCA and set up their own non-profit animal rights or animal protection/rescue groups.

However, lawyers cannot HANDLE anything that there is no law supporting a claim on. In order for your friend to have a claim they had to have some right in being a volunteer with the SPCA. There is no legal right to be such a volunteer, so there is no way to handle anything through the legal system or the courts.

If she wants to start her own rescue non-profit and recruit other dedicated individuals like herself, then she is free to do that and she can then compete against the SPCA for animals in need.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
Well....this ongoing dialogue is AT LEAST getting me my money's worth. Thank you for that. But, you still haven't offered
much help. I don't want to hear about what volunteers CAN'T do. I want to find cases where they SUCCEEDED in removing
SPCA staff. In fact, we actually did that HERE a few years ago by peditioning the director to fire an offensive front desk person.
Does that precident allow us to do it again?
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 10 months ago.
Thank you for your reply. Unlike some sites we do not abandon customers just because the customer is irritated by the information we provide them.
There is one thing you seem to be not understanding, not every situation has a solution people will like and some situations have no solution at all other than to move on and put the incident behind you (we experts have no control over either the facts or the laws, but we do get blamed for them all the time and we understand). She has no right here, there is no legal case in the database like you are asking about because people cannot sue for being dismissed as a volunteer in this type of situation. We cannot provide someone something that does not exist and no court cases exist for this issue I am sorry about that.
I told you in my first response, her only recourse was sending an appeal to the director to ask for reinstatement, so what you are saying now about someone petitioning the director is what I told you was her only recourse in the very beginning of this.
There are only "cases" reported if there is a lawsuit, you cannot sue over this if there is no legal right to sue over. So as a volunteer she is there at the will and pleasure of the organization and can be removed for no reason or any reason and there is no legal right to be there I am afraid and as such there would be no cases to find in the court case database.
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
you're suggesting that our volunteers petition the director to welcome my girlfriend back. Not a bad idea. But, probably not a permanent fix. It still leaves her future in his hands and she has already been cow-towing for years. Why? Because, she loves the dogs and worries night & day about THEIR welfare. No, the director needs to feel he could lose his job over this along with other entrenched staff members. Our SPCA could not survive without its volunteers. And, yet they have no rights or say in the running of the place? This has to change, and not just in our shelter.....but everywhere. THAT'S what I want help with, how to bring about change when the cards are stacked against you. Last night, I saw the movie LOVING. The story is about a white man marrying a black woman in 1958 Virginia. For that, they were arrested and threatened with prison if they didn't immediately leave the state. It took 10 years but, they won their case in the US Supreme Court. That inspired me and I hope will come up with a winning plan.
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 10 months ago.
Thank you for your reply.
The problem is everything you are saying, while it may be very true, is not a element of a legal action. The only way your girlfriend could have a case that could get her position back is if the SPCA took some act that had a legal cause of action preventing it. Volunteers have really no legal rights, not even rights as at will employees, who have very limited rights.
You cannot take the matter to court, her only recourse is the director, so she needs to make her plea to the director and explain the whole story to the director about the continued attacks and hopefully she can get the director to stop it, but that is really the only option she has.