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Am I an Employee: The Threshold Question in Employment Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on, among other reasons, the employee’s race, religion, national origin, and sex.  Title VII also protects employees from retaliation by their employer for reporting or opposing the employer’s discriminatory actions.  Before bringing an employment discrimination case, however, the employee must be able to show that he or she is in fact an employee and not, for example, an independent contractor.  Today’s Long Island employment discrimination blog discusses the Second Circuit Court of Appeals case, Knight v. State University of New York Stony Brook, which addressed the question of how to determine whether an individual is an employee.

The Discriminatory and Retaliatory Conduct

Anthony Knight is African American and was a member of an electrician’s union.  The union had agreed to provide electricians to Stony Brook, when Stony Brook needed additional workers for large construction projects.  In April 2011, the union sent Knight to help Stony Brook with a project.  While working at Stony Brook, Knight found “racist” graffiti in the bathroom and reported it to his foreman.  After the report, Stony Brook terminated Knight’s work.  Knight sued Stony Brook alleging the graffiti was discriminatory and the termination was taken in retaliation for his complaint about the graffiti.  The court dismissed the discrimination claim, but the retaliation claim went to trial.

Whether the Plaintiff was an Employee

At trial, Stony Brook argued that Knight was not an employee and since he was not an employee, he was not protected by Title VII so his claim should be dismissed.

To determine whether a plaintiff is an employee under Title VII, courts use the Reid factors.  These 13 factors were set forth in 1989 by the United States Supreme Court and are:

1. the hiring party’s right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished

2. the skill required

3. the source of the instrumentalities and tools

4. the location of the work

5. the duration of the relationship between the parties

6. whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party

7. the extent of the hired party’s discretion over when and how long to work

8. the method of payment

9. the hired party’s role in hiring and paying assistants

10. whether the work is part of the regular business of the hiring party

11. whether the hiring party is in business

12. the provision of employee benefits

13. the tax treatment of the hired party

In Knight, the trial court held that it could not determine whether Knight was an employee because the 13 factors were not clearly in favor of one party or the other.  Rather, some of the factors favored a finding that Knight was employee and other factors favored Stony Brook’s argument that Knight was not an employee.  So, the court submitted the question to the jury and instructed the jurors about the 13 Reid factors.  Ultimately, the jury determined that Knight was not an employee, leading Knight to appeal the decision.


The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Second Circuit is New York’s highest federal appellate court.  In deciding Knight’s case, the court relied on several legal arguments, without reaching a determination as to whether the jury properly decided that Knight was not an employee.  First, the court determined the question of whether Knight was an employee was an appropriate question for the jury to decide.  Knight argued that the judge should have made that determination, but the Second Circuit disagreed.

Next, Knight argued that using the Reid factors was not appropriate because that test is used to determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor.  Knight further argued that since Stony Brook was not arguing that Knight was an independent contractor, then it was improper to use the Reid factors.  The court disagreed with this argument, as well, noting the Supreme Court indeed intended that the Reid factors be used to determine whether an individual is an employee and, moreover, Knight had not suggested any other alternative test.

Finally, the court rejected Knight’s argument that the Reid factors compel the conclusion that he was an employee.  Here, again, the court relied on a procedural point rather than reviewing the Reid factors.  The court held that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require parties to renew motions for a directed verdict after a jury trial in order to preserve the right to appeal the issue.  Because Reid did not renew his motion after the jury verdict, he waived his right to appeal.

Long Island Employment Discrimination Lawyers

Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC are employment discrimination lawyers on Long Island, New York.  If you have questions about Title VII, discrimination, retaliation, or whether you are an employee, contact one of our Long Island employment lawyers at 631-352-0050 or on the internet at

The information in today’s Long Island employment law blog was taken from Knight v. State University of New York at Stony Brook, No. 17-54, Jan. 29, 2018, Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

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