Nearly 50 years ago Congress passed federal law prohibiting
employment discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against
employees, former employees and applicants for employment based on their
sex, race, color, religion and national origin. Additional federal laws
have been passed to prohibit disability discrimination and age discrimination.
A seemingly simple question is raised by many workers in determining whether
these discrimination laws apply to them and provides them protection –
i.e. who is an employee?
A recent case from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals evaluated what factors
are involved in determining a person’s status as an employee under
Title VII, allowing an individual protection from discrimination. In
Bryson v. Middlefield Volunteer Fire Dep’t Inc., an administrative aide to a volunteer fire department alleged that she had been
sexually harassed by the Fire Chief. She further asserted that after complaining of the
harassment she was
retaliated against, leading to her constructive discharge.
The lower court dismissed the claim reasoning that even though the administrative
assistant was an employee, the members of the volunteer fire department
did not receive pay and as a result were not employees. Because Title
VII only applies to employers who employ at least 15 employees, the court
sexual discrimination law was not applicable.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court decision. The court
noted that although receiving pay and other benefits is important in determining
whether an individual is an “employee” for purposes of discrimination
laws, other factors are important as well. Following a multi-factor test
adopted by the Supreme Court, these considerations include not only method
of payment, but also “the hiring party’s right to control
the manner and means by which work is accomplished, the skills required,
location of work, ownership of the job’s instrumentalities and tools,
and other similar factors.” Based on all of these considerations,
the 6th Circuit determined that in certain circumstances a volunteer could
be considered an employee.
If you believe you have been subject to discrimination at work, one of
the first considerations is whether federal or state discrimination laws
protect you. Consulting with an experienced
Georgia employment discrimination lawyer is important to answer your questions and determine your next steps.
For more information concerning discrimination laws or if you believe you
have been the victim of harassment or discrimination, contact the compassionate
Atlanta workplace discrimination lawyers at The Buckley Law Firm, LLC for a confidential consultation.