On October 15, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII and ADA action on the basis that the plaintiff–a part-owner of the defendant business–was not an employee and therefore not covered by Title VII or the ADA. Bluestein v. Central Wisconsin Anesthesiology, No. 13-3724 (7th Cir. 10-15-2014). In order to be entitled to protection under Title VII, a person must be an employee of an employer that employs 15 or more employees. In Bluestein, the plaintiff filed a Title VII and ADA lawsuit against a company in which she was a partner/shareholder and member of the Board of Directors. She had an equal right to vote on all Board matters, shared equally in the profits and liabilities of the company, participated in hiring and firing decisions, and had an equal right to influence employment policies.
The 7th Circuit held that under these circumstances, she was not an employee but instead an employer, who had no right to sue the company for employment discrimination. The facts that she was out-voted by her partners on all matters, including her employment termination, and had an employment contract, did not make her an employee. This case should be kept in mind when drafting or negotiating an employment agreement for a shareholder or part-owner of a business because their status as an employee could be defined in the employment agreement.