You're A Small Company And Title VII Doesn't Apply To You: Don't Let Your Guard Down
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
A recent federal case in Maryland reminds us that while Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, Title VII also defines "employer" as having fifteen or more employees (just like the Americans with Disabilities Act).
So, as a general matter, an employer with fewer than fifteen employees does not satisfy Title VII’s (or the ADA's) statutory definition of employer and, therefore, is not subject to discrimination actions founded on Title VII.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT AN EMPLOYER WITH FEWER THAN FIFTEEN EMPLOYEES CAN DISCRIMINATE!
For one thing, there are state or local anti-discrimination laws that may apply. In DC, the DC Human Rights Act, which contains 21 protected categories including political affiliation, credit information, and domestic violence/sexual offense/stalking victim status, applies to all employers - not only those with fifteen or more employees.
Similarly, there may be county-level laws that protect employees of smaller companies, such as in Prince George's County, Howard County, and Montgomery County in Maryland (Maryland law, like its federal counterpart, covers employers with 15 or more employees).
Another thing - there are a lot of really good crafty plaintiff-side employment lawyers out there that can latch on to state common law to create a "back door" employment claim. Even if such a claim is ultimately not successful, it could cost you a lot to defend against it - my advice is to act beyond reproach so that a plaintiff's attorney would take a hard pass if your employee sought their counsel.
Also, please note - other federal laws may have different minimum employee requirements. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to employers with 20 or more employees, but the Equal Pay Act applies if an employer has at least one employee!