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It is not uncommon that I get a call from someone claiming that they are an employee of an educational institution only to find out that they are also either taking classes at the institution, receiving scholarships from the institution, or possess some other characteristic which calls into question whether they are truly an employee, a student, or something in between.

Unfortunately, the difference between being a student and an employee is important when determining whether you can successfully bring a Title VII discrimination claim against the educational institution that you are affiliated with.

This issue was recently discussed in detail by the Southern District Court of Ohio in Al-Maqablh v. University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In Al-Maqablh, the plaintiff had brought race and national origin discrimination claims under Title VII against the university and argued that he was an “employee” of the university thereby entitling him to protection under Title VII. To support his alleged “employee” classification, Al-Maqablh pointed out that he received a paycheck from the university and worked for the university doing research work. Despite this evidence, the Court concluded that Al-Maqablh was a “student” not an employee.

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The Court pointed out that the plaintiff received a stipend or scholarship from the university after being accepted into the graduate assistant program. The Court found that the plaintiff could not demonstrate that his “paycheck” was not a part of his stipend. The Court further determined that Al-Maqablh’s assertion that he performed research work for the university did not make him an employee under Title VII. The Court, using the “economic realities” test, determined that plaintiff was a student because the vast majority of activities that he engaged in within the graduate program were student-related activities. Therefore, he was not eligible to bring a Title VII claim for discrimination.

Importantly, the Court made the point in its opinion that it was not establishing a rule of law regarding the status of a graduate assistant for purposes of the Title VII analysis. Rather, the Court emphasized that each case must be analyzed based on the economic realities of each individual; thus, leaving the door open for other graduate assistants who may claim in the future that they are “employees” of the educational institution, rather than students.

This type of holding creates risk for both sides, which usually means that such cases would likely be settled.

If you have questions about you are an “employee” under Ohio or federal law, you should not wait to call the right attorney at (216) 291-4744 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. If you have been fired, discriminated against, denied wages, or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 291-4744. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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