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New York Ruling Says Partner Not an Employee Under Law

A former law firm partner lost his age discrimination suit against law firm Holland & Knight. The judge granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm, holding that the former partner was not an employee under a legal test established by a previous legal decision involving a law firm.

The New York ruling makes it more difficult for law firm shareholders to argue that they are employees, not partners, to qualify for protection under anti-discrimination suits. In this case, the former partner claimed that he was terminated by the law firm at age 55 because the firm didn't want to pay retirement benefits.

The firm, however, argued that he was not terminated due to his age. Additionally, the firm argued that under the test established in the U.S. Supreme Court case Clackamas Gastroenterology Associates v. Wells, the former partner did not qualify as an employee, but rather a shareholder in a professional corporation. The distinction resulted in a full dismissal of the former partner's age discrimination and retaliation, breach of contract, fraudulent inducement and breach of fiduciary duties claims.

While it's not likely that the New York state legal decision will substantially impact similar claims in California, it is a controversial decision that will be watched throughout the country. No matter what your employment status is, if you've been discriminated against in the workplace, speak with a knowledgeable attorney who can help you understand your rights.

Source: The AmLaw Daily, "New York Judge Rules Law Partner Not an Employee, Can't Sue for Age Discrimination," Sara Randazzo, 12/13/2011

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