Law School Case Brief
Lerohl v. Friends of Minn. Sinfonia - 322 F.3d 486 (8th Cir. 2003)
In both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12101 et seq., Congress has adopted a circular definition of "employee" - an employee is an "individual employed by an employer." 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 2000e(f), 12111(4). In such cases, the United States Supreme Court applies the general common law of agency to determine whether a hired party is an employee or an independent contractor.
Plaintiffs-appellants musicians Tricia Lerohl and Shelley Hanson commenced two separate actions against defendant-appellee Friends of the Minnesota Sinfonia, a nonprofit corporation that governs the Minnesota Sinfonia. Lerohl and Hanson allege that they were terminated as regular members of the Sinfonia in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12101 et seq. (ADA), respectively. The musicians performed for the symphony, which put on free performances for inner-city youth. The symphony's freelance musicians could opt out of symphony concerts that they had agreed to play. The symphony did not provide musicians annual leave, health or life insurance, worker's compensation coverage, or other fringe benefits except that it did contribute an agreed percentage of the union scale payments to the musicians' union pension fund.
From 1990 to 1999, Lerohl and Hanson were "regular" players at Sinfonia concerts. In mid-1999, the Sinfonia stopped offering work to Lerohl and Hanson. Lerohl alleged the Sinfonia and Sinfonia's director violated Title VII by terminating her in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment by the conductor. Hanson alleged that defendants violated the ADA by ending her long-standing working relationship when she sought to resume playing after being absent several months while recovering from injuries sustained during a Sinfonia rehearsal. Both statutes protect "employees" but not independent contractors.
In Hanson's case, the district court dismissed her complaint, ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, concluding that the ADA does not apply to this dispute because Hanson was an independent contractor, not an employee of either the Sinfonia or its conductor. In Lerohl's case, again acting on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court dismissed the complaint, agreeing with the court's decision in Hanson and therefore concluding that Lerohl was an independent contractor outside the protection of Title VII. Lerohl and Hanson appealed, arguing that it was critical that control be given primary consideration. They stated the control issue in terms of individual symphony concerts and concluded that the symphony conductor controlled the rehearsals and concerts, and therefore, all symphony musicians were employees.
Are freelance symphony musicians considered "employees" protected by either the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The judgments of the district courts were affirmed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected the approach that control was critical for musicians and should be given primary consideration. First, the Court held that it was contrary to the United States Supreme Court's repeated admonition that no factor was determinative and all aspects of the parties' relationship must be considered. Second, it held that the notion that musicians were always employees when they perform in a conducted band or orchestra flew in the face of both common sense and undisputed facts in the record. Thus, the Court ruled that the symphony was not in violation of Title VII or the ADA. The Court further noted that because the ultimate issue of whether Lerohl and Hanson were employees or independent contractors is one of law, it may properly be resolved by summary judgment provided there is no genuine issue of material fact. Likewise, the Court concluded that any fact disputes were immaterial and that Lerohl and Hanson were independent contractors as a matter of law.
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