PRESLER v. DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN UNITED STATES

Reset A A Font size: Print

The Reverend Jane Butterfield PRESLER, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. The DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF the PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN the UNITED STATES of America, et al., Defendants–Appellants.

Decided: January 07, 2014

SWEENY, J.P., ACOSTA, SAXE, MOSKOWITZ, CLARK, JJ. Murphy & McGonigle, P.C., New York (Theodore R. Snyder of counsel), for appellants. Steven A. Rosen, New York, for respondent.

Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Milton A. Tingling, J.), entered October 4, 2012, which denied defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, unanimously reversed, on the law, without costs and the motion granted. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

Defendants' motion for summary judgment should have been granted. 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 (Murphy v. American Home Prods. Corp., 58 N.Y.2d 293, 304–305 [1983] ). Nor was a claim of promissory estoppel available to avoid the at will doctrine (Dalton v. Union Bank of Switzerland, 134 A.D.2d 174, 176–177 [1st Dept 1987] ). 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” (see New York City Health & Hosps. Corp. v. St. Barnabas Hosp., 10 AD3d 489, 491 [1st Dept 2004] ). 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 (Marino v. Vunk, 39 AD3d 339, 340–341 [1st Dept 2007] ). 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 (Dillon v. City of New York, 261 A.D.2d 34, 38, 40 [1st Dept 1999] ). Nor did plaintiff raise a fact issue that Larom made the statement, which was in large measure correct, and related directly to the work, purely out of malice (Present v. Avon Prods., 253 A.D.2d 183, 189 [1st Dept 1999], lv dismissed 93 N.Y.2d 1032 [1999] ). Plaintiff's claim under Religious Corporations Law § 25 should also have been dismissed. As its terms make clear, it applies to the removal of a minister from a position as pastor of a church, not from an administrative post. Moreover, the sole “practices” plaintiff claims that defendants violated were 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.