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The Eighth Circuit Examines When Partners are Owners as Opposed to Employees Covered by the ADEA

Earlier this week, the Eighth Circuit affirmed a Missouri district court's decision in Von Kaenel v. Armstrong Teasdale, LLP. This case of first impression for the circuit court involved an equity partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP, Joseph S. von Kaenel, who was forced out at age 70 at the conclusion of 2014. He alleged that but for the firm's mandatory retirement policy in the firm's partnership agreement, he would have retired at or around 75. He filed suit in federal court, where the central issue was whether he was an employee covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The Eighth Circuit concluded that he was not an employee covered by the ADEA.

While this ruling is specific to law firms, all businesses using a partnership model, especially multitiered partnerships, should proceed with caution in applying this decision.

Read our Lawyers for the Profession® alert about the case to learn more.

Physician Partner may sue Physician’s Partnership for Retaliation Under FEHA

The California Court of Appeal recently determined that a physician partner could sue her partnership under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) for retaliation based upon that partner’s opposition to, and efforts to prevent, the sexual harassment of the partnership’s non-partner employees. The Court acknowledged that a partner cannot sue the partnership under the FEHA for alleged harassment or discrimination against the partner, or for retaliation for opposing harassment or discrimination against the partner. The Court further confirmed that a partner cannot sue her partnership for harassment, discrimination or retaliation under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, however, the Court recognized that a partner is a "person" protected from retaliation under the FEHA for opposing alleged sexual harassment of the partnership's employees, because the anti-retaliation provision shields "any person" who opposes employment discrimination, even if there is no existing employment relationship with defendant. The Court noted that the circumstances before it were "unique" thus implying that such a retaliation claim will not be raised often. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal's decision reflects a broadening of the FEHA prohibition against retaliation claims, which previously seemed to only apply to a relationship between employer and employee.

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