Watkins & Letofsky LLP may have had the 15 employees needed to trigger Americans with Disabilities Act coverage for a Nevada associate attorney who requested a reduced schedule for health reasons, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday.
A lower court dismissed Amy Buchanan’s lawsuit in 2019 because the civil litigation firm’s Nevada office did not have 15 or more employees at the time. But the “integrated business” test applies to ADA workplace discrimination cases and the lower court did not consider whether Watkins & Letofsky collectively had at least 15 employees in its Nevada and California offices. , the appeals court said.
The test, which he had previously agreed to apply under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, also applies under of the ADA, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on a matter of first impression for the court.
The language and configuration of Title VII and the ADA are in many ways identical, said Judge Kathryn H. Vratil of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The Circuit has long interpreted the ADA’s employment provisions consistent with Title VII interpretations and it should do so as well with respect to how a plaintiff can meet the employee count requirement, a she declared.
A jury could conclude that Buchanan’s evidence satisfies all four factors of the integrated business test, the court said.
The fact that the two offices of Watkins & Letofsky share a toll-free phone number and a website, and that employees of both offices use the same email template footer could prove that their operations were interdependent, a said Vratil. The same goes for the sharing of operational and administrative work, an IRS tax ID number and a list of employees in the two offices, the judge said.
The company’s two namesakes were its only partners and they ran the two offices, she said. This could establish the common management of integrated enterprise theory and centralized control of labor relations factors, Vratil said.
The two partners’ status as sole proprietors of Watkins & Letofsky could also meet the joint financial control requirement, the Ninth Circuit said.
He overturned the company’s summary judgment and sent the case back to the lower court to determine whether Watkins & Letofsky had 15 or more employees at the two offices.
Judges M. Margaret McKeown and William A. Fletcher joined in the opinion.
Kemp & Kemp represents Buchanan. Watkins & Letofsky represents itself.
The case is Buchanan v. Watkins & Letofsky, LLP, 9th Cir., No. 21-15633, 4/7/22.