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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Pastor’s Breach of Contract Lawsuit Against Board Members Dismissed by Court
Key point 4-06. Clergy who sign legal documents in their own name with no indication that they are signing in a representative capacity on behalf of their church may be personally liable on the document.
Key point 6-07.02. Church board members may be personally liable for contracts they sign if they do so without authorization, or if they fail to indicate that they are signing as a representative of the church.
Key point 6-08. State and federal laws provide limited immunity to uncompensated officers and directors of churches and other charities. This means that they cannot be personally liable for their ordinary negligence. However, such laws contain some exceptions. For example, officers and directors may be personally liable for their gross negligence or their willful or wanton misconduct.

A federal district court in Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit by a pastor against individual members of a board of deacons claiming that his termination constituted a breach of contract. A church hired a pastor (the "plaintiff") in 2012. The church and plaintiff executed a contract specifying a 20-year term of employment expiring in 2032. The contract stated various terms and conditions governing termination of the pastor's employment, including that either party could terminate the agreement with or without cause but with certain contractual consequences. The contract further provides that "the rights of termination set forth in this contract are in addition to any other rights of termination allowed to either party by law." The plaintiff claimed that termination of his employment as pastor was without cause as defined in the contract, and on this basis sued the church and each member of the board of deacons (the "defendants") for breach of the employment contract in a federal district court. He sought $2.6 million in damages.

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