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Volunteers can sue for job discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

You may believe that interns, volunteers or other unpaid helpers aren’t official “employees” so they can’t sue for discrimination. You’d be wrong.

If you discriminate in the selection process for volunteers, disappointed would-be volunteers may be able to sue under Title VII. That’s especially true if you often hire permanent employees out of your volunteer pool.

So, make sure your volunteer selection process doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, disability or religion.

Recent case: When Dr. Syed Rafi was turned down for a volunteer research position at the National Institutes of Health, he shot off a Title VII discrimination lawsuit. The agency argued that volunteer work isn’t “employment,” so discrimination laws don’t apply. But the court disagreed and let Rafi’s case go to trial, noting that a significant number of volunteers in those positions were eventually picked for full-time paid jobs.

Because volunteers were compensated with the possibility of being hired, they weren’t volunteers, but employees for discrimination purposes. (Rafi v. Thompson, No. 02-2356, DC DC, 2006)  

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