Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities v. Echo Hose Ambulance
African-American Volunteer Did Not Qualify As 'Employee'
Labor and Employment | Hiring/Firing | Discrimination | Race Discrimination
- New Britain J.D., at New Britain
- Dec 23 2013 (Date Decided)
- Cohn, J.
An unpaid volunteer who works for an ambulance company may not qualify as an "employee" for purposes of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Connecticut General Statutes §46a-60. Sarah Puryear alleged the following facts, which have not been proven. Puryear, who is African American, volunteered at an ambulance company and allegedly was subjected to verbal harassment and inappropriate comments about the "ghetto" and Africa. Although Puryear informed a supervisor that she could not attend a meeting because she was ill, Puryear was suspended in December 2009, because she failed to attend the meeting. In June 2010, a supervisor allegedly falsely claimed that Puryear did not follow chain of command. After Puryear was reinstated, a supervisor allegedly falsely claimed that Puryear abandoned a patient. Puryear was voted out of the ambulance crew. Puryear filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and alleged discrimination in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. A hearing referee found that the benefits of volunteering, which included training, education and experience, did not qualify as remuneration, and that Puryear did not qualify as an "employee." In O’Connor v. Davis, a 1997 decision of the 2nd Circuit, non-salary benefits afforded to a volunteer were greater than those provided to Puryear, and the court found that there was no employment. Likewise, in Holder v. Bristol, a 2009 decision, the Northern District for the District of Indiana found that insurance and other benefits provided to the plaintiff were insufficient to make the plaintiff an "employee." The hearing referee’s decision was not arbitrary, illegal or an abuse of discretion, and the Superior Court dismissed the appeal.