Title VII May Protect Executives From Discrimination

Does Title VII Protect Executives from Employment Discrimination?

The National Law Review published an article in June 2017 analyzing the rights of executives under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The piece takes a look at the federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on protected characteristics such as age, race, sex and disability.

Businesses have an obligation to ensure that their employees do not harass or discriminate against other employees. When an employee violates Title VII, not only may the individual be held liable, but the employer, whether it is a large corporation or smaller company, may also be responsible. When the employee who allegedly violates Title VII is in a position of authority within the business, the company will likely be responsible for his or her actions. For example, if you work for a large company called XYZ, and your direct supervisor who is a senior vice president threatens to fire you if you do not have sex with him, XYZ may be liable for your supervisor’s actions.

But, what happens when the executive, senior vice president or partner is the person who experiences the discrimination or harassment? Are executives employers or employees when it comes to applying Title VII and other federal prohibitions against employment discrimination?

High-Level Executives: Employers or Employees?

In the National Law Review article “Are Executives and Law Firm Partners Covered by Title VII’s Employment Discrimination Protections?” the author writes,

“A typical scenario involves a high-level manager, executive, or law firm partner who is harassed, repeatedly passed over for a promotion or fired and then seeks shelter from the discrimination through a Title VII lawsuit.”

In this situation, the defendant company often files a motion to dismiss the case because it claims, the executive is not an employee and may not, therefore, file a lawsuit under Title VII.

In a case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Clackamas Gastroenterology Associates v. Wells, 123 S.Ct. 1673 (2003), the Supreme Court set forth several factors to consider when determining whether a high-level executive is an employee who may seek protection from the ADA. Courts apply the same analysis to Title VII cases.

  • The extent of supervision the company exerts over the individual’s work
  • Whether the company can fire, hire, and set rules and regulations of the individual’s work
  • The extent to which the individual can and does influence the company
  • Whether the parties intended that the individual be an employee, as expressed in any written agreements
  • Whether the individual shares profits, losses, and liabilities of the company
  • Whether the individual reports to someone higher in the company

According to the court in Clackamas, an individual’s job title is not relevant to the analysis and the factors must be viewed “as a whole. A high-level executive such as a partner in a law firm, or a senior vice president of a corporation may not necessarily be an employer and can challenge such a designation using the factors above. The most important issues will revolve around the level of control the person has over his or her compensation, work, and job-related decisions.

Contact Us

If you are an executive or partner and are experiencing employment discrimination contact Leeds Brown Law, P.C., attorneys who understand the intricacies of Title VII and other laws that may protect you.

We have attorneys representing victims of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination in New York City, Long Island and the surrounding counties. For help filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights, negotiating a settlement or filing a lawsuit, call Leeds Brown at 1-800-585-4658.


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