Employment-Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal Of Title VII Claim Since The Plaintiff Was Not An Employee

In Juino v. Livingston Parish Fire District No. 5, No. 12-30274 (5th Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Rachel Juino (“Juino”), was appealing from the district court’s dismissal of her claim of sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and applicable state law. The district court had ruled that Juino, a volunteer firefighter, was not an “employee” within the meaning of Title VII or applicable state law, and thus could not bring a claim thereunder. The question for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”): was Juino an employee of the Fire District?

In analyzing the case, the Court said that – to determine employee status-it would apply the “threshold-remuneration test”, which generally requires a volunteer to show, as an initial matter, that he or she was receiving remuneration, before the court proceedes to determine whether the individual is an employee under a common law agency test (as opposed to the position taken by other courts that absence of remuneration is only one factor in determining employee status). Remuneration may consist of either direct compensation, such as a salary or wages, or indirect benefits that are not merely incidental to the activity performed.

The Court noted that Juino contends she received remuneration, since she received the following benefits while working at the Fire District: $2.00 per fire/emergency call; a life insurance policy; a full firefighter’s uniform and badge; firefighting and emergency response gear; and firefighting and emergency first-response training. The Court said, however, that the foregoing items do not amount to significant indirect benefits that constitute remuneration. As such, Juino did not receive any remuneration from the Fire District. Therefore, she was not an employee and could not bring a claim under Title VII or applicable state law. Accordingly, the Court upheld the district court’s dismissal of Juino’s claim.