September 27, 2010

Providing volunteer with benefits deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants

Providing volunteer with benefits deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants
Pietras v Farmingville Fire District, 180 F.3d 468

Victoria Pietras failed the performance test required by the Farmingville Fire District. She sued, claiming the district’s test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

A federal district court judge agreed, holding that Farmingville’s physical agility test [PAT], which all probationary volunteer firefighters were required to pass in order to become full-fledged volunteer firefighters, had a disparate impact on women.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

According to the decision, as a probationary volunteer, Pietras was entitled to numerous firefighter benefits under state law and the by-laws of the department. These included: (1) a retirement pension, (2) life insurance, (3) death benefits, (4) disability insurance, and (5) some medical benefits.

Although not a paid employee, providing these benefits was deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants for employment.

The district court directed Pietras’ reinstatement as a probationary firefighter and said Farmingville could “develop and administer a non-discriminatory PAT as a precondition to Pietras [and presumably all other applicants for volunteer firefighter] becoming a full-fledged volunteer member.” .
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