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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Non-Ministers and Wrongful Termination Claims
A former church employee's job and duties did not trigger the ministerial exception, and a resolution of her wrongful discharge claim did not require the court to delve into religious doctrine.

Key point 8-04. In most states, employees who are hired for an indefinite period are considered "at will" employees. This means that the employment relationship may be terminated at will by either the employer or employee, with or without cause, and with or without notice. The courts and state legislatures have created a number of exceptions to the at will employment rule. These exceptions limit the right of an employer to terminate an at will employee. Employees who are hired for a specific term are not at will employees, and they may be terminated only if the employer has "good cause."

* A federal court in Washington ruled that the First Amendment did not prevent it from resolving a dismissed lay employee's claim of wrongful termination against her former church. The parties in this case were the same as in the previous case. In this case, Beth sued her church and denominational agencies (the "church defendants") for wrongful termination rather than sexual harassment discrimination under Title VII. She asserted that the church's termination of her employment based on her accusations of sexual harassment against the senior pastor violated a "public policy against sex discrimination."

The court noted that "there is no dispute that Beth was subjected to unwelcome and persistent sexual advances from [the senior pastor] contrary to Washington's strong public policy against such behavior." After she complained to the pastor about his conduct, he informed her that she would have to resign. The church's associate pastor, also a member of the board, confirmed this decision. Beth later communicated to the other members of the church board the severity and frequency of the pastor's misconduct. Nonetheless, the board did not question the pastors' decision to terminate her.

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