Are Owner/Employees Able to Maintain Discrimination Claims Against the Company?

According to a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit, the answer to the question above is more or less a simple “no.” The case at issue is Bluestein v. Central Wisc. Anesthesiology. The facts concern a medical professional (Bluestein) who, after a period of employment, became a shareholder and voting board member for the Defendant company. After suffering a severe injury, Bluestein requested an indefinite leave of absence and the company demanded her resignation, stating that they would “terminate her employment” if she refused to resign. She did not resign and the board voted to terminate her employment (with Bluestein dissenting), prompting Bluestein to bring discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the Defendant company and found the facts and claims by Bluestein so lacking as to warrant the imposition of attorney fees against Bluestein and counsel. The district court found Bluestein to plainly not be an employee.

The appellate court affirmed, largely basing the decision on the idea that Bluestein had a sufficient degree of control over the Defendant company, through Bluestein’s voting rights on the board, so as to prevent Bluestein from asserting rights and requesting remedies available to employees. The appellate court further upheld the award of attorney fees against Bluestein, noting that the district court found Bluestein’s claims meritless even should Bluestein have proven she was an employee.

While opinions differ on whether the award of attorney fees was appropriate, most agree with the basis for the holding as to Bluestein’s status as employee versus employer. The takeaway message is that, if you have a significant ownership interest in the company that employs you, you would be wise to maintain a degree of caution when asserting discrimination claims.

If you find yourself facing discrimination by your employer, contact Wilson Law Group today to schedule a free consultation.