Why the Total Number of Employees Matters in an Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Size can make a difference when it comes to certain forms of employment discrimination. That is to say, the size of a given employer–i.e., how many people work for the company–often determines whether or not a particular employment discrimination law applies to the firm and its employees. For example, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only covers New York businesses with at least 20 employees.

Judge Declines to Add Golf Course's Employees to Attached Restaurant, Dismisses ADEA Claims

Determining whether an employer meets the 20-employee minimum, however, is sometimes not a simple task. Consider this recent decision from a judge in upstate New York. In this case, Geraci v. Restaurant at Apple Greens, Inc., the plaintiff was a seasonal worker for two different restaurants located approximately 30 miles apart. One restaurant is located on a golf course; the other is a steakhouse. The two restaurants shared a common co-owner.

There was a cook who also worked at both restaurants. The plaintiff's lawsuit essentially alleges she was the victim of age discrimination committed by this cook. Accordingly, she sued both restaurants, as well as the owners of the golf course where the first restaurant was located.

This required the judge overseeing the case to first determine if any of the relevant employers met the ADEA's 20-employee threshold. After reviewing payroll records and other evidence, the judge held that at no point during the plaintiff's employment–i.e., when the alleged age discrimination occurred–did either restaurant employ 20 workers for a period of at least 20 weeks (which is also part of the threshold). The plaintiff, therefore, had no claim under the ADEA against either restaurant separately.

The judge also rejected the plaintiff's argument that the restaurant at the golf course and the golf course itself were effectively a single “integrated” employer for ADEA purposes. There was no dispute that the golf course employed at least 20 people. But as the judge explained, the golf course and the restaurant were separate entities. The restaurant leased its building from the golf course. The golf course otherwise had no involvement in the restaurant's operations, aside from a profit-sharing agreement that applied when the restaurant catered non-golf events such as weddings.

Critically, however, the restaurant and the golf course maintained “entirely separate payroll systems, employee records, and insurance.” The plaintiff, therefore, could not count the golf course's employees towards the restaurant's 20-employee minimum.

Contact a New York Age Discrimination Lawyer Today

It should be noted that while the judge in the case above dismissed the plaintiff's ADEA claims, she is still free to file a lawsuit in state court alleging illegal discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), which applies to businesses that employ just four workers.

Indeed, there are many discrimination cases where state or city statutes provide employees with substantially greater rights than federal law. A qualified New York City employment attorney can review the facts of your case and advise you on which laws may best help you obtain justice. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team today.

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