Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Puryear v. Echo Hose Ambulance
Federal and state employment laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race may not apply to unpaid volunteers. The plaintiff mother, Brenda Puryear, filed a race discrimination complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities on behalf of her minor child, who allegedly worked as an unpaid volunteer for an ambulance company and the City of Shelton and received training, education, experience and equipment. Puryear alleged that the defendants were discriminatory when they reprimanded and discharged the minor child, in violation of Title VII and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. The respondents moved to strike and argued that unpaid volunteers do not qualify as "employees" and are not covered by the federal and state discrimination laws. Connecticut General Statutes §46a-60(a)(1) provides that it is discriminatory for "an employer, by the employer or the employer's agent, except in the case of a bona fide occupational qualification or need, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment any individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual's race, color. . . ." Title VII and Connecticut law define "employee" as "an individual employed by an employer." In a 1999 decision, Pietras v. Board of Fire Commissioners of the Farmingville Fire District, the 2nd Circuit wrote, "the question of whether someone is or is not an employee under Title VII turns on whether he or she has received direct or indirect remuneration from the alleged employer." Presiding Human Rights Referee Ellen Bromley found that Puryear failed to adequately allege the receipt of direct or indirect remuneration or that there was any employment relationship. There was no claim that the minor received pension, life insurance, disability insurance, death and medical benefits. Absent legislation that extends to unpaid volunteers the protection of federal and state employment laws that prohibit discrimination against employees, the human rights referee granted the respondents' motion to strike.