Alberty, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in Defendant's favor, holding that under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) and P.R. Laws Ann. Tit. 29, 146 et seq. And 467 et seq., there was no genuine issue of material fact that Plaintiff was an "independent contractor," not an "employee." The issue on appeal was whether there were any genuine issues of material fact evidencing Defendant's unlawful discrimination against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII and Puerto Rico's anti-discrimination laws. The Court, however, used a de novo standard of review to side-step the issue of discrimination and focus instead on the parties' legal relationship. Using First Circuit Court precedent, the Court reasoned that since it could affirm a summary judgment ruling "on any basis apparent from the record," it would focus its analysis on the parties' legal relationship. Although, as explained below, this reasoning and logic is faulty on numerous levels, the Court nevertheless analyzed Plaintiff's legal status by using a "common law agency test," as dictated by circuit court precedent. The Court noted that since the test was used by the First Circuit Court in analyzing an ERISA claim -- which had an identical definition of "employee" -- the Court was justified in using it the instant matter. Under the agency test, the Court held that based on the undisputed facts, "a reasonable fact finder could only conclude that Alberty was an independent contractor." Accordingly, since an independent contractor is not an "employee," and because Title VII only covers "employees," Plaintiff essentially had no legal basis for her claim, and therefore the district court was justified in granting summary judgment for Defendant.
Motion for Summary Judgment: "A court should grant summary judgment 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Stated differently, if there really is only one answer to a disputed issue, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that issue, then the court should resolve that issue in the moving party's favor.
The Common Law Agency Test: Under this test, the court must consider the hiring party's right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished. Among other factors relevant to this inquiry are the skills required; the source of the instrumentalities and tools; the location of the work; the duration of the relationship between the parties; whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party; the extent of the hired party's discretion over when and how long to work; the method of payment; the hired party's role in hiring and paying assistants; whether the work is part of the regular business of the hiring party; whether the hiring party is in business; the provision of employee benefits; and the tax treatment of the hired party.
Dykes, 140 F.3d at 37-38. Under this test, the court must look at the facts and determine whether the "hiring party" controls how the "hired party" does what it was hired to do, and whether the "hiring party" controls how the "hired party" accomplishes its objective. The laundry list of accompanying factors above is meant to assist the court in making these determinations.
Using the summary judgment standard above, the Court affirmed the district court's decision by avoiding the "factual" prong of the standard and instead focusing on the "legal" prong, i.e., whether Plaintiff qualified for protection under Title VII. There is a fundamental flaw, however, with the Court's decision to focus solely on the parties' legal relationship. According to the procedural posture of the case, the district court initially granted partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's status as an "employee." At trial, the court nullified its decision by granting Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that Plaintiff was in fact an independent contractor. The Circuit Court, however, reversed the trial court on the issue of Plaintiff's status as an employee, which meant that the original judgment -- that Plaintiff was an "employee" -- stood and was binding on the parties. Subsequently, when the case was reassigned to a magistrate judge, Defendant filed…