What to do about not getting paid my severance package?

I have worked at a church school for 22 years as an office manager, assistant day care director and bookkeeper. Last month, the principal and I recommended to the board that the school close due to declining enrollment and a budget short fall of $200,000 if we tried to open next the school year. The board vote to close it. We were all told that we were out of a job but our contracts would be paid. A week later the church council decided to close only a portion of the school but keep open the day care and preschool programs. The next day the pastor told

me that the entire church council wanted me to become the new director and that they would pay for my training. On Sunday I told him that I would like the job. A week later I presented to the board a budget and plan for the preschool program. The board chairman at that time

indicated that he too wanted to by the new director. 2 weeks after the congregation vote to only hire members of the church. I was approached by another board member who told me that she was going to be the new director but she wanted me to stay on but I would have to join the church. I declined the offer. It was my budget and plan that they presented to the church for approval. I was asked by 2 more board members if I would stay on, however I had to join the church. Originally we were told by the pastor that we would receive a severance package and now they have denied severance. Now the pastors wife is telling everyone that is is the fault of the principal and myself the school was closing. Have they violated any laws?

Asked on May 17, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

There are two different issues here:
1) Severance: unless you had written severance agreement (or written employment contract with a severance clause or provision), you had no entitlement to severance--when there is contract, it is purely voluntary on the part of the employer whether to pay severance (and if so, how much). They could promise you severance, then retract that promise.
If you had a written agreement, however, you can enforce its terms; if the don't pay as required by the agreement, you could sue for breach of contract.
2) Defamation: if the pastor's wife (and/or anyone else) are telling people that you and the principal caused the closing when you did not, they may be defaming you by making an untrue statement which damages your reputation. You could potentially sue anyone defaming you in this way for monetary compensation; if you wish to explore this option, you may wish to discuss the matter with a personal injury attorney.

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