MITCHELL LAW GROUP
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HR and Tax Newsletter - October 2004



Graduate Student Treated as Employee for Title VII Purposes

Applying an "economic realities test" the Eleventh Circuit  has held that a USF graduate student was an employee for purposes of Title VII. Under the economic realities test, the term "employee" is defined under general common law principles of agency, taking into account the economic realities of the situation and the right of the employer to control the plaintiff. Relevant factors include  whether the employer directed the plaintiff's work and paid for or provided the materials used to do the job. Although much of the student's lab work was done for the purpose of satisfying the lab-work, publication, and dissertation requirements of her graduate program, the student also received a stipend, benefits, and her equipment from USF. The decision not to renew her appointment was based on employment rather than academic reasons. These factors lead the court to conclude that the student should be treated as an employee. Cuddeback v. Florida  Board. of Education

Pilot Not Treated as Employee of Company Leasing Plane

The pilot of an aircraft leased by the Orlando Magic is not an Orlando Magic employee for FMLA purposes. The pilot  flew an airplane that had been leased to transport the basketball team as part of a timeshare arrangement. In determining whether the pilot was an Orlando Magic employee the court looked at three factors: location, control, and ability to modify conditions of employment. It concluded that the lease gave the ball club no rights but the right to have its players flown around. A different company had the right to assign crew members to particular flights and direct crew members to conduct flights. The court rejected the argument that the ball club was the pilot's employer because the club provided the pilot with perks including a holiday bonus, tickets to games, invitations to company functions and company discounts.  Although the pilot was required to wear a Magic identification badge and team neckties, the court concluded that these requirements were a concession to the Magic by the company providing the plane and that these concessions did not create an employment relationship. Even though the Magic and the company leasing the plane to the Magic were owned by the same family, that common ownership was insufficient to justify treating the companies as one employer under the FMLA. Morrison v. Magic Carpet Aviation.

Divorce Decrees Affecting Life Insurance Plan are subject to QDRO Standards

A Florida district court has held that divorce decrees that require the payment of life insurance proceeds to former spouses from employer sponsored life insurance plans must generally comply with the requirements for qualified domestic relations orders (QDRO's). In the case before the court, an ex-wife sought to enforce a divorce decree ordering the payment of life insurance proceeds to her in the face of a beneficiary designation that gave those proceeds to the deceased husband's "friend." Although the order did not technically meet the QDRO requirement that an address be specified, the court, in upholding the order, concluded that the underlying objective of the address requirement (that the beneficiary be easily identified) could be met by other means.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Williams.