Small businesses: Check to see if you’re too small to be sued

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s an important note for small employers looking to avoid unnecessary hassles and lawsuits: If you receive a complaint from the EEOC or local employment discrimination agency, don’t assume or admit that you have enough employees to be covered by the law.

If you have fewer than 15 em­­ployees, you could win instant dismissal. The federal anti-discrimination law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) applies to organizations with 15 or more em­­ployees.

Recent case: After Bilal Saleem was fired from his job at a Minnesota barbershop, he sued for race discrimination.   

He filed a complaint with the city’s anti-bias agency, which served as a simultaneous EEOC claim.

The city agency concluded that the barbershop had 17 employees, based on a list the company had provided, and gave Saleem the green light to sue. Saleem did, filing in federal court and including a Title VII race discrimination claim.

That’s when the barbershop told the court it actually had fewer than 15 employees, explaining that the earlier list was incorrect.

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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