Terrie Harman was the Music Director of South Church for eight years, serving under six different ministers. Her problems started with the hiring of an interim minister, Elaine Peresluha, who was sent to the church by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) following the sudden resignation of the church’s minister. Interim minister Peresluha began her term in the fall of 2009 and then the following events occurred:
1. In April, 2010, at staff meeting the interim minister subjected Terrie to hostile treatment, refusing to allow her to speak and threatening to fire Terrie if she told anyone about the minister’s actions. South Church’s Employee Handbook defines harassment as follows:
“Unreasonable actions by employees that would demean, embarrass or insult others in the workplace, or that tend to create an uncomfortable or threatening environment, constitute harassment and will not be tolerated.”
Terrie proceeded to contact the
chairperson of the Board of Trustees and made a complaint about the treatment
she was subjected to at the April meeting.
The Handbook states that following a complaint of this kind there must
be a “thorough investigation of the complainant’s allegations.” This was not
done. At no time did the church or the
UUA thoroughly investigate these allegations.
Between May, 2010 and her termination in
January, 2011 Terrie was subject to further harassment such as:
a) Public scolding of Terrie by the interim minister during a choir rehearsal.
b) Sudden denial of use of the church organ and piano for teaching her students.
c) Denial of an earned sabbatical unless she took it during the most heavy work period for the church music program.
Supervisory meetings cancelled at the very
last minute on a constant basis by the interim minister.
Terrie sought the intervention of the Unitarian
Universalist Musicians Network to assist in achieving better relations between
Terrie and the interim minister. As a
result a meeting to define a Covenant of Good Behavior was set. However, at
this meeting, the minister refused to discuss the Covenant.
The Employee Handbook requires that an annual
performance review be conducted. The only review Terrie had during the tenure
of the interim minister was a short, affirmative, verbal review in 2010, prior
to the harassment incidents. No
warnings verbal or written were given to Terrie prior to her termination in
January of 2011. A poll taken by the church’s Music Committee indicated a high
degree of satisfaction with the program that Terrie administered. The poll was
taken just prior to Terrie’s termination.
On January 19, 2011 Terrie was told by members
of the church board that she had just two days to depart her position at the
church. No reason was given for her dismissal.
To this day the church has not provided Terrie with a reason for her
Terrie appealed the termination to the American
Guild of Organists (AGO), an organization of over 10,000 organists and choir
people, many of whom play at churches. The AGO launched a thorough
investigation of Terrie’s termination in which South Church officials, including
the interim minister, participated fully.
In addition, three “Observers”, church members with information on the
incidents prior to the firing, participated.
In mid April, 2011 the AGO concluded its
investigation and issued a letter to the church saying that Terrie’s dismissal
was a case of “wrongful termination”.
The letter called on the church to enter into negotiations with the AGO
to resolve the matter. The negotiations
failed and in August 2011 the AGO issued
the following statement:
“South Church UU, Portsmouth, NH,
wrongfully terminated a member of the American Guild of Organists on January
19, 2011, for which no resolution has been reached. Until a resolution is
reached, no AGO member may serve your institution as an employee or independent
contractor or in an interim, substitute, regular or permanent capacity…
“The American Guild of Organists’ preference is to maintain a good working relationship with all congregations who employ our members, and we request that those employers provide fair and just working conditions for their employees…”
9. As a
result of the church’s failure to negotiate a settlement AGO members have been
banned from performing or working for
South Church. The AGO continues to be open to negotiating a settlement with the
church. Many non members of the AGO respect the ban and will not perform at the
church until it is lifted. The ban is posted on the AGO website and was
disseminated in its newsletter to all of its members.
10. Following the August, 2011 letter from the AGO, three church members who filled the “Observer” role during the AGO investigation met with Reverend Lauren Smith in an attempt to move things forward. Three meetings were held. At the final meeting with the Observers in September 2011, Reverend Smith presented a plan to a) Reopen negotiations with the AGO and b) to hold a meeting of reconsideration and reconciliation for members of South Church, moderated by a third party. The plan was accepted by the Observers. As of this date, fully ten months later, neither of these two actions has been implemented by the church.