Don’t assume that just because a worker is an independent contractor, he can’t sue you when his contract isn’t renewed. While he may not be able to sue under Title VII for various forms of discrimination, he can still sue for alleged racial discrimination.
That’s because, since shortly after the Civil War, individuals have been able to sue over contract discrimination under Section 1981 of the original Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in contracting.
Recent case: Pierre, who is black and from Haiti, worked as a contractor for Executive Transportation. He leased a limousine from the company and drove clients assigned by the company.
Pierre turned in his limo to take a few months off. When he returned, he got a different vehicle, which quickly broke down. That’s when Executive claimed it discovered an obscenity scratched into the dashboard, where passengers could see it. Executive fired Pierre.
He sued, alleging race discrimination. He claimed company representatives called him a “black bastard” at the meeting where he was terminated. He also claimed that white drivers had received more and better client referrals.
Executive tried to get the case dismissed based on Pierre’s contractor status.
The court refused, reasoning that since Pierre was alleging race discrimination, he could sue under Section 1981 for interference with his right to contract. It said Pierre met his initial burden to show possible race discrimination when he described racially charged language used during the termination meeting.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed after the company alleged it terminated Pierre because he had allowed an obscenity to remain visible to clients. Pierre couldn’t identify any white employees who had been retained after a similar incident. (Youry v. Executive Transportation, No. 11-4103, ED PA, 2013)
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