Category Personnel/Employment
Title Nonrenewal of a Teacher Contract
Author/s John L. Cooley
Preview Nonrenewal of a Teacher Contract

Nonrenewal of a Teacher Contract
By Attorney John L. Cooley

Q: Our school is considering not renewing a teacher's contract this upcoming school year. One of our board members has said our state is a right-to-work state, and so we do not have to "worry" about not renewing the contract. Is he right? How is it different from "at will"? Since it is a year-to-year contract, can't we just tell the teacher we are not renewing it?

A: Your question raises a number of issues. For example, the phrase "right to work" refers to a state's law that gives an employee the right to decide for himself/herself whether or not to join or financially support a union. For a Christian school teacher with a current contract, this concept has no bearing on the decision to renew or not renew a contract.

Generally, all employees are either "at will" or "just cause" employees. At-will employees may be terminated at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice. In most cases, a teacher under a contract for a definite period of time is a just cause employee. To terminate a just cause employee, the employer must have appropriate cause. The cause is usually stated in the contract. For example, a Christian school teacher must be a Christian role model; if the teacher's conduct violates the role model requirement, the school has cause to terminate the contract for employment.

The question indicates that the contract is yearly; that is, it is a one-year contract with no promise of tenure or continuing contracts. However, while the contract is year-to-year, and "just cause" may not be required to not renew a contract, a school must be cautious in these matters, even in regards to at will employees. The reason for this is that an employer cannot terminate an employee or fail to renew a contract for a "bad reason"—that is, an arguably discriminatory reason.

For example, a school must consider whether the employee is above the age of 40, in which case the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies. In a similar fashion, Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, and religion (although Christian schools may use religion as a criterion, including moral and ethical values based on religion). Additionally, if an employee has a disability, the school must consider issues related to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). In any of these cases, if challenged under one of these antidiscrimination statutes, the school must be able to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the termination or nonrenewal.

Thus, whether at-will or under a contrct that is not being renewed, the school must evaluate—and be able to articulate—a nondiscriminatory reason for the action.

LLU 27.1

Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.  

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