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Decided: July 15, 2015

The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded.

This case was an appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Drive Automotive Industries (“Drive”). Butler, who was a temp agent for ResourceMFG and worked at Drive, filed suit after she was terminated from her job at Drive. She claimed that she was fired because she had complained that her manager at Drive was sexually harassing her, and that he requested that she be fired after she made several complaints against him. The district court granted Drive’s motion for summary judgment because it found that Drive was not Butler’s employer under Title VII because it did not exercise enough control over the terms of her employment. Butler appealed this decision, claiming that Drive was an employer under the statute.

The Fourth Circuit began by asserting that it would be reviewing this appeal de novo, and then moved into a discussion of what qualifies as an employer under Title VII. The problem for Butler is that she had two employers, ResourceMFG and Drive, and the first question the Court considered was whether an employee could have multiple employers under Title VII. The Court concluded, after examining the “joint employment doctrine” in other circuits, that it was possible for an employee to have multiple employers, and affirmed the district court’s decision on that point. The Court then looked at whether the district court correctly applied the joint employment doctrine, and looked at the extent to which Drive controlled Butler’s activities as an employee. The Court considered the three tests that other courts use to determine control in a joint employment context: the economic realities test, that Butler wanted to use; the control test, that Drive wanted to use; and the hybrid test. After examining both the control and economic realities tests, the Court decided that the hybrid test, which neither party argued in favor of, was the relevant test to apply. It then set forth its own compilation of factors, drawing on other cases that had used this test, and applied those factors to Butler’s case. Based on that application, the Court concluded that the district court incorrectly determined that Drive did not have substantial control over Butler and therefore did not count as her employer for purposes of Title VII. Because the Court concluded that Drive was an employer under Title VII, it remanded the case back to the district court to review the merits of Butler’s claims.

Full opinion

Jennie Rischbieter