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Small employers: Always check to see if you’re too small to be sued under Title VII

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Note to small employers interested in avoiding unnecessary hassles—and lawsuits: If you receive an EEOC or local employment discrimination agency complaint, don’t assume or admit that you have enough employees to be covered by the law.

If you have fewer than 15 em­­ployees on the payroll, that could mean instant dismissal of the case. Title VII applies to organizations with 15 or more employees.

Recent case: Bilal Saleem worked for Heimie’s Haberdashery as a ­barber until he was terminated.

Saleem, who is black, claimed that he was fired on account of his race.

He filed a complaint with the city of St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Oppor­tunity, which served as a simulta­neous EEOC filing.

The city investigator assigned to the case concluded that Heimie’s had 17 employees, based on a list the company had provided.

The St. Paul agency dismissed Saleem’s complaint, but did say he had the right to sue.

Saleem did, filing in federal court and including a Title VII race discrimination claim.

That’s when Heimie’s Haber­­dash­ery told the court it actually had fewer than 15 employees, explaining that the employee list provided earlier was incorrect and included several individuals who were not, in fact, employees.

The court dismissed the claim, but only after the company spent time and money trying to get the case tossed—all because it had miscounted its employees. (Saleem v. Heimie’s Haberdashery, No. 11-823, DC MN, 2011)

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