Court Rules That an Employer May be Responsible for Age Discrimination Committed by an Independent Contractor of Employer

A September 10, 2009 decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals holds that an employer may be held liable for age discrimination allegedly committed by third parties, including an independent contractor.
Manhattan Apartments, Inc. (MAI) was the owner of an apartment building. Robert Brooks (Brooks) was hired by MAI as an independent contractor to interview and hire “Showers,” or persons who would show the apartments to prospective renters. In interviewing plaintiff Michael Halpert (Halpert) for a Shower’s job, Brooks allegedly told Halpert that he was “too old” for the position. Halpert sued MAI under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment in favor of MAI on the basis that Brooks was an independent contractor and that MAI could not be held liable for the act of an independent contractor. The court of appeals reversed the decision and remanded the case to the trial court for trial, including a determination of whether or not MAI’s degree of control over the interview and hiring process for the Shower position rendered Brooks MAI’s agent with respect to that position. The court noted that there was evidence on both sides of that issue, as disclosed by the summary judgment affidavits.
Business entities should take note that, contrary to general principles of non-liability of the principal, a person or business that hires an independent contractor may indeed be responsible for the acts of an independent contractor. This case amply demonstrates the importance of obtaining competent legal advice from an experienced business attorney concerning the sometimes complex issues of legal responsibility of one business or person for the acts of another.
[Source: Halpert v. Manhattan Apartments, Inc., ---F.3d---, 2009 WL 2881388, (CA.2, 2009)]

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