What started off as a discrimination case in Puerto Rico quickly spiraled into a linguistic debate over whether a shareholder or director is considered an employee under the law.
On Jan. 19, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals answered that question for the first time.
In December 2004 Lenda De Jesus filed suit against her employer LTT Card Service Inc., which sells cell phone components. De Jesus accused her former employer of harassing her after she announced she was pregnant. When confronted with the suit, LTT countered by saying it was not an "employer" under federal anti-discrimination laws and therefore De Jesus' suit had no merit.
Title VII defines an "employer" as "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce that has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." LTT claimed that during the time of De Jesus' complaint, it only had 13 employees.
However, during the discovery process, De Jesus determined that LTT excluded two men from the payroll. LTT argued those men were shareholders and directors and therefore should be considered proprietors, not employees. But the Appeals court found they were employees within the meaning of federal law.