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Contractor isn’t liable for bias against subcontractor’s worker

Dear Clients and Friends,

When it comes to employment law, construction sites can be complicated places. That’s be- cause there’s typically a general contractor who’s responsible for the whole project, but there are also a variety of subcontractors that are brought in to work on specific pieces of it. Inevitably, there’s a lot of interaction and coordination among everyone’s employees. And when something goes wrong, it’s not always clear who’s responsible.

Recently at a major public project in Wisconsin, a company called JP Cullen was the general contractor. One of its subcontractors was called EMI, and it hired subcontractors of its own. One of these was called UCI, and it employed a worker named Walter Love.

When Love got into a fight with an employee of a different subcontractor, Cullen banned him from the site. Since UCI had no other projects at the time, he was essentially fired.

Love sued Cullen for race discrimination. But Cullen argued that it couldn’t be held responsible because it wasn’t Love’s employer. And a federal appeals court in Chicago agreed, saying Cullen wasn’t Love’s employer because it didn’t control his work, train him, furnish his equipment, provide wages or benefits, or have any continuing relationship with him once the project was complete.

But it’s worth noting that the outcome could have been different if Cullen had exercised more control over Love’s work. And on many construction projects, that might be the case.



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