HR Administration

Emergency Room Physician is Independent Contractor, Cannot Pursue Bias Claims: Court

By Judy Greenwald

Oct. 31, 2012

A “balance of actors” indicate an emergency room physician was an independent contractor and not an employee, and she therefore cannot pursue her discrimination claims, said a federal appellate court in a ruling Wednesday.

Dr. Pooneh Hendi Glascock, a female physician of Iranian origin, had contracted with Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Linn County Emergency Medicine P.C. to provide emergency medical services at Mercy Medical Center in 2007, according to the ruling in Pooneh Hendi Glascock v. Linn County Emergency Medicine P.C. by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

The agreement with the physician group was to last one year and renewed for an additional year unless terminated by either party with 90 days’ notice. It provided Glascock would be offered an ownership position in the firm after one year of satisfactory performance and upon approval by a majority of the firm’s owners, said the ruling.

The firm provided professional liability insurance for Glascock, but no benefits or vacation pay. It guaranteed 15 shifts per month and an hourly rate of $130, among other provisions, but gave the physician group no “control or direction over the method or manner” in which she performed her professional services and duties, the ruling said.

Glascock charged that throughout her relationship with the group she was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment by other group physicians, including being called a “princess,” “cutie” and “babe,” as well as disparaging remarks about pregnancy. Group shareholders also allegedly made disparaging remarks about her national origin.

At the end of her first year, the clinic’s shareholders voted not to extend to her an ownership interest, but instead gave her a six-month probationary term. During the last week of her probationary term, she told the firm she was pregnant, and the shareholders subsequently voted to terminate her.

Glascock filed suit against the group under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Iowa state law, charging discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy and national origin. A district court granted the group’s motion to dismiss the case.

“To determine whether a hired individual is an employee or an independent contractor, we primarily consider whether the hiring party was able to ‘control the manner and means by which a task is accomplished,'” said the 8th Circuit, in quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Darden.

Although evidence supporting the issue of control is “inconclusive” in this case, though, a number of factors in the Darden case “support a conclusion that Glascock was an independent contractor,” said a three-judge panel. Among these was that she received no benefits from the group, paid her own self-employment taxes and was licensed at her own expense.”

“Other factors which might favor employee status in this case are fewer in number and less in weight than those favoring independent contractor status,” said the court, in affirming the lower court’s ruling dismissing the case.

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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