Unpaid Volunteers Entitled To Legal Protection From Discrimination

December 18, 2012

Can you bring a sexual discrimination lawsuit if you are a volunteer? Yes said the 7th circuit court in a recent sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation case involving unpaid volunteers. The court in Volling v. Antioch Rescue Squad reviewed whether female members of a private, nonprofit rescue squad in Illinois may sue the two companies that run the service for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite their “unpaid volunteer” status

Unfortunately, workplace sexual discrimination and sexual harassment still exists and you should not have to put up with unfair treatment based on your gender. If you feel you have suffered harassment or discrimination as a result of your gender, please contact a top Georgia sex discrimination lawyer right away.

In this instance, the female workers were subjected to severe, degrading and even possible criminal conduct including the following allegations:

• The women experienced sex discrimination; and faced retaliation at the hands of their supervisors and co-workers;
• A co-worker groped two of the women’s breasts and made comments about comparative breast sizes;
• A supervisor forcibly attempted to kiss the women; and the same supervisor pulled down one of the woman’s pants, leaving her naked from the waist down in front of co-workers;
• A co-worker placed sexually degrading content regarding one of the women on social media websites; and
• A supervisor would play a game he called the “North, South, East, West game,” in which he would move his penis around in all directions, including in front of the female workers.

The case turned on whether the fire department could be considered an employer and thus subject to employment laws.

The court said that it could and pointed to Supreme Court law that provides that pay is only one factor in this determination. While compensation is an important factor in evaluating whether a person is an employee, it is not the only one.

Judge John J. Tharp noted: "the question, nature, and degree of remuneration may not be as relevant in the nonprofit work context as it is in assessing the employer-employee relationship in a commercial setting … the conditions under which workers with nonprofit organizations perform their duties may differ in no other material way from the conditions under which compensated ‘employees' toil.”

As a result “there seems little basis—and certainly none in the text of the statute—to conclude that Title VII's protections do not extend to [unpaid volunteers] simply because there is a single factor—degree of pecuniary compensation—that distinguishes them from those the defendants would deem to be ‘employees.' ”

In other words the fact that you are a volunteer or "unpaid" does not mean that your "employer" may sexually harass or otherwise discriminate against you. Pay is only one factor in making the determination of whether you are an "employee" and protected by federal anti-discrimination laws.

For more information about sexual harassment or sexual discrimination, or if you feel you have been treated unfairly at work, please contact the top Georgia sex discrimination lawyers at Buckley & Klein, LLP for an immediate consultation.