My wife was forced to resign from a position as HR Director of a large church solely because of our marriage separation.
1) Is this legal discrimination since she works for a church?
2) Is it legal for an employer to threaten a bad reference to force a resignation?
3) Does my wife have any legal recourse against this church?
2 attorney answers
Churches are exempt from a lot (but not all) of discrimination laws, because their whole purpose for existing is to teach a certain philosophy and moral code, a.k.a. religion. A church can usually terminate somebody's employment if that person takes an action that the church morally disagrees with. The church cannot lie about somebody in their references, because that would be defamation, but a bad reference could just be an opinion, like "not a team player" or "hard to get along with."
It would be best to consult an attorney who can ask you more questions and get more details about your situation. Somebody who practices in employment law or in non-profit organization law would be able to give you a more detailed assessment about what legal recourse, if any, you can take.
Your wife needs to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. I'm not in your jurisdiction but even if I was, I'd need a lot more information to assess this. The church may be able to do this, or it may not, and it will boil down to nitty gritty details that can't be conveyed in an Avvo post. An experienced discrimination attorney will be able to figure it out pretty quickly.
Hello! PLEASE READ THIS. IT'S MORE THAN JUST A BORING DISCLAIMER: I hope my answer to your question helps, but please know that you can't rely on the answer I've given you as legal advice because my answer would likely change if I had a chance to ask you a few questions. Going back & forth with questions is time-consuming and still won't help because it may take 30 follow-up questions to assess your case (although if I've followed up with a quick question, please answer it. I want to help!). Per Avvo rules, I am not allowed to ask you to call my office so we can discuss it. You, however, are absolutely allowed and encouraged to contact anyone who answers your questions, especially if we say we don't know enough to give you a definitive answer. Some of us may do free consults, some of us may charge a nominal fee---really, it depends on how complicated your situation is. You've gotten this far---don't let your issue drop just because we say we need more info, or even if we say you do not have a case. You need to assume that a naysayer lawyer on Avvo doesn't have all the information, BECAUSE WE DON'T. We really don't. We're trying to help because you sound like a nice person in a jam, but really, we all need to meet you to give you a definitive answer to most situations. Few job nightmares can be boiled down to a quick Avvo question. Fight for your rights, and don't stop until you've sat down with an employment lawyer, that lawyer has heard you out and has asked a TON of questions, and that lawyer tells you there is nothing that can be done. Also, please know that I am licensed only in Illinois. So if you are not in Illinois, I am really REALLY not giving you legal advice because I am not licensed in your state. The massive amount of federal law I know may apply to you, but your state or city may have all kinds of laws that protect you in your situation. I won't know a thing about those laws; my brain is packed solid with Illinois, Chicago, Cook County, and a truckload of other Illinois municipal and administrative employment laws---there is no room for any other state's employment laws. Heck, there is no room in my head for any other area of ***Illinois*** law---I have successfully fought my own parking tickets only because they put the instructions on the back. Consider what I have to say as potentially useful tips that you should ask about when you meet with a lawyer in your state. Good luck!