Employee’s At-Will Status Precludes Her Claims Against Her Employer

So-called “at-will” employees in New York can be fired for any reason or no reason (just not an illegal reason, such as discrimination because of a protected characteristic). This rule applies even if, for example, the employer gives verbal assurances of job security.

This principle was recently applied in Presler v Domestic & Foreign Missionary Socy. of the Prot. Episcopal Church in the United States of Am.. There, the Appellate Division, First Department held that several of plaintiff claims – for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and torious interference – were precluded by her at-will status, and should have been dismissed on summary judgment:

As plaintiff’s contract for employment was expressly at will, and she could be fired at any time with or without cause, her claim for breach of contract should have been dismissed. Nor was a claim of promissory estoppel available to avoid the at will doctrine. This is particularly true where, as here, the express, written acknowledgment by plaintiff that she was an at will employee precluded any reasonable reliance on alleged oral assurances that her job was “secure”. Moreover, given that the defendants were in charge of plaintiff’s duties, and they were charged with deciding or recommending her termination, they were acting in the scope of their employment. As such, neither the employer nor its employees could be liable for tortiously interfering with plaintiff’s employment contract. Similarly, because the undisputed facts show that defendant Larom made the allegedly defamatory statement only to other church employees also charged with supervision of plaintiff, it was subject to a qualified privilege. (Emphasis added.)

The court also held that plaintiff’s claim under Religious Corporations Law § 25 should have been dismissed, as it “applies to the removal of a minister from a position as pastor of a church, not from an administrative post.”

Finally, the court rejected plaintiff’s claims that defendants violated certain “practices”, as they were contained in the “employment guide that expressly states it creates no rights or entitlements for employees, and that they are subject to termination at any time with or without cause.”

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