By Emily Keimig
When doctors and lawyers get sideways with their business partners, they might dispute whether one or more of them are really “employees.” In a recent case, an anesthesiologist alleged disability and sex discrimination. To get relief under the statutes, though, the doctor had to be an employee. The doctor was one of 16 shareholders in the practice, and all of them shared equally in the responsibilities for running the business. Applying 6 different factors to determine whether the would-be plaintiff exerted control or had the right to exert control over the organization, the court concluded that the doctor was an employer, not an employee.
This case was different from a prior case involving a large law firm. In that case, there were over 500 partners, and the firm was controlled by a small, self-perpetuating executive committee that could hire, fire, promote and determine the compensation of the other “partners.” In that case, the court ruled that “partners” who lacked control were “employees.”
There is no bright line rule, but if co-owners of a business all exercise equal decision-making authority, none of them might fit the definition of employee. In that case, none of them could sue the group under the anti-discrimination laws. Bluestein v. Central Wisconsin Anesthesiology, S.C., Nos. 13-3724, 14-1256 & 14-1257 (7th Cir. October 15, 2014).