Sixth Circuit Clarifies Use of Joint-Employer Doctrine in Title VII Cases

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Maurice Knox v. Skanska USA Building, Inc., 6th Cir Nos. 12-5967; 12-6236 (Dec 10, 2013), held that a defendant can be liable under the Joint-Employer Doctrine in a Title VII case.
In Knox, a general contractor, Skanska USA Building (“Skanska”), subcontracted with C-1, Inc. (“C-1”). C-1 went on to hire several hoist operators, including Maurice Knox, to work at a Memphis, Tennessee, construction site. While employed at the site, Knox was subjected to repeated acts of discrimination. He was called a “monkey”, “n----r”, and other racial slurs. Racially charged graffiti was sprayed around the worksite. At one point, the contents of a porta-potty were thrown on him. Knox repeatedly complained to his supervisor, but was told that his complaints would need to be made directly to Skanska. Knox eventually left the worksite. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission then sued Skanska under Title VII, alleging that Skanska subjected Knox to a hostile work environment and then retaliated against him for complaining about the harassment. The EEOC and Knox, assuming the Joint-Employer Doctrine applied, moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that Skanska was the operators’ joint-employer and thus liable under Title VII. Skanska cross-moved for summary judgment under the same assumption. The district court denied the EEOC’s and Knox’s motions and granted Skanska’s motion.
In reviewing the case, the Sixth Circuit noted that it has previously assumed, in dicta, that a defendant can be liable under Title VII pursuant to the Joint-Employer Doctrine. The Court also went on to note that other circuits, notably the Third, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, have all applied the Doctrine to determine if an entity is liable under Title VII.  Therefore, although neither party briefed the applicability, the Court firmly applied the Joint-Employer Doctrine to Title VII cases. In doing so, the Court found that Skanska exercised sufficient control over Knox to be considered a joint-employer, and reversed the district court’s judgment.
The Court’s decision in Knox is an important one for employers, as it provides a steadfast precedent for the imposition of the Joint-Employer Doctrine in Title VII cases, making it one more potential pitfall for employers to avoid.

Contact: Marcus Pringle
216. 696.7077

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