Who is Considered a "Joint Employer" Under NYC Employment Discrimination Law?

It many employment discrimination cases, it is not necessarily clear who the “employer” is. Many New York City workers have several masters who may be fairly classified as their employer. For this reason, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), which protects workers from on-the-job discrimination, recognizes the possibility of “joint employers.”

Store Faces Lawsuit Over Restaurant Subcontractor's Alleged Race, Age Discrimination

For example, in an ongoing employment discrimination case now pending before a federal judge in Manhattan, a group of former restaurant employees sued both their immediate former employer and another company they alleged was a joint employer. The restaurant itself was located in a well-known New York department store. Although the store formerly operated the restaurant directly, it later hired an outside vendor as an independent contractor to take over the operation.

Under a “Food Services Agreement” between the store and the vendor, the latter is deemed an “independent contractor.” All of the restaurant employees who formerly worked for the store were reclassified as employers of the independent contractor. However, the Agreement also allowed the store to “set conduct standards for Restaurant employees.” The store could also “require” the contractor to “reassign Restaurant employees” on demand.

The plaintiffs in this case worked for the restaurant before and after the transition to the independent contractor's management. But shortly after the transition, the plaintiffs said they were fired. They alleged this was due to their age, sex, and race. The plaintiffs are “over the age of 40 and of Hispanic descent,” and they claim the store and the independent contractor both wanted to project “a more youthful look” for the restaurant “that was also skewed racially and genderwise.”

Before the district court overseeing the plaintiffs' employment discrimination lawsuit, the store argued it was not the “employer” in this situation based on the Food Services Agreement. The judge declined to dismiss the store as a defendant at this time, however, holding that since the Agreement reserved to the store the “power to set rules of conduct for Restaurant employees that are consistent with the rules that [the store] for its own employees,” that “plausibly” supported the plaintiff's claim that the store did, in fact, play a role in “setting the terms and conditions” of employment. In turn, this could be sufficient to hold that the store is a “joint employer” for purposes of the NYCHRL.

Keep in mind, the judge did not actually rule on the merits of the plaintiff's case. The store continues to maintain that it played no role in any decision to hire or fire individual restaurant employees, including the plaintiffs. At this stage of the litigation, the plaintiffs only needed to present a credible statement of allegations against the defendant.

Get Help from a New York City Employment Discrimination Lawyer

If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, it is important to seek timely legal advice from a New York employment attorney who can review your case and apprise you of your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., if you need to speak with a lawyer today.