Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from treating employees unfairly based on their gender, national origin, disability, race or color, or religious beliefs. This law clearly protects employees who are hired and paid by a company or organization. The question arises whether volunteers are also protected under Title VII and therefore cannot be discriminated against in the workplace.
Many non-profit organizations and public agencies would not be able to function without the services of their volunteers. This raises the question, if volunteers are essential, are they protected under anti-discrimination laws? A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit drew the line between a volunteer and employee in a case involving two nuns and the American Red Cross. Under the court’s definition, the court’s ruling made it clear that volunteers are not protected under Title VII.
Sister Michael Maria vs. the American Red Cross was brought to court because the nuns felt they had been discriminated against due to their religious beliefs. The court needed to decide if the nuns, although volunteers, were classified as employees of the agency and protected by laws against religious discrimination.
The court stated “employee” status requires a variety of factors. Volunteers can qualify to be protected as employees if their work fulfills these requirements. This case set the precedent for the definition of a volunteer. A volunteer receives no salary, payment, health benefits, tax benefits or other financial benefits. Moreover, a volunteer’s performance is not controlled by the company or organization in a way similar to the employee-employer relationship.
The court ruled that although the organization controlled the schedule and tasks for the nuns, the nuns had significant flexibility as to when they volunteered. For this reason, the nuns were considered volunteers and not employees, and therefore were not protected from discrimination under Title VII.
If you have experienced race discrimination, religion discrimination, age discrimination or gender discrimination, you may have grounds to file a discrimination lawsuit to receive compensation for your unjust treatment. The Philadelphia discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates have the skill to successfully obtain compensation for workers who are victims of discriminatory practices. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to speak with one of our New Jersey employment lawyers.