Key point 8-05.1. Many federal employment and civil rights laws apply only to those employers having a minimum number of employees. In determining whether or not an employer has the minimum number of employees, both full-time and part-time employees are counted. In addition, employees of unincorporated subsidiary ministries of a church are counted. The employees of incorporated subsidiary ministries may be counted if the church exercises sufficient control over the subsidiary.
* The United States Supreme Court ruled that the “15 employee” requirement for employer coverage under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not “jurisdictional,” and so employers with fewer than 15 employees lose this defense if they fail to raise it before the end of a trial. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers engaged in interstate commerce and having at least 15 employees from discriminating in any employment decisions on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, or religion. Some courts have ruled that the 15 employee requirement is “jurisdictional,” meaning that a court does not have the legal authority to resolve a Title VII case involving an employer with fewer than 15 employees. As a result, an employer can raise the “less than 15 employees” defense at any time, even after a court renders a judgment. Other courts have ruled that the 15 employee requirement is not jurisdictional, but rather is simply a requirement for a Title VII claim. Under this interpretation, the “less than 15 employees” defense must be asserted in an employer’s response to a lawsuit or it will be waived.
In a recent case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 15 employee requirement under Title VII is not jurisdictional, but rather is a requirement of a Title VII claim. As a result, it is waived if not raised in response to a lawsuit. The case involved a woman who was employed by a restaurant as a server. She sued her employer for sexual harassment (a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII). A jury awarded her $40,000 in damages. After the jury’s verdict, the employer asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and verdict on the ground that it had fewer than 15 employees and so was not subject to Title VII. This was the first time the employer had raised this defense. The trial court granted the employer’s request on the ground that the 15 employee requirement was jurisdictional rather than simply a requirement of a Title VII claim, and therefore the court had no authority to resolve the case.
The United States Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, and held that the 15 employee requirement is simply a requirement of a Title VII case that must be raised in response to a lawsuit. It found no language in Title VII making this a jurisdictional requirement that can be raised at any time, and concluded that “when Congress does not rank a statutory limitation on coverage as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as non-jurisdictional in character.”
Application. Some federal employment laws apply only to employers having a specified number of employees. To illustrate, employers must have 15 or more employees to be subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. An employer must have at least 20 employees to be subject to the federal age discrimination law, and 50 employees to be subject to the Family Medical Leave Act. According to the Supreme Court’s recent decision, churches that are sued for violations of any of these laws must assert in their answer to the original lawsuit the “affirmative defense” that they have fewer than the required number of employees. A failure to do so will constitute a waiver of this defense. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corporation, 126 S.Ct. 1235 (2006).