United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.
On November 7, 2013, a jury found that the Village of Antioch discriminated against Dawn Geraty, a police officer in the Village, on the basis of her gender by failing to promote her to the position of sergeant and by failing to transfer her to the position of detective. The jury awarded Geraty $250, 000 in compensatory damages. On May 2, 2014, the clerk entered judgment in favor of Geraty and against the Village in the amount of $329, 454.16, which included $61, 186.72 in backpay and $18, 267.44 in prejudgment interest.
The Village's motion to alter or amend the judgment based on Title VII's statutory damages cap is presently before the court. This motion turns on the number of employees who worked for the Village in 2006 and 2007. The parties dispute whether volunteer firefighters count as employees. For the following reasons, the Village's reliance on compensation, as reflected in payroll records, to establish that volunteer firefighters are not employees is unavailing. The parties shall confer and, based on the methodology detailed below, attempt to agree on whether a sufficient number of volunteer firefighters worked a sufficient number of weeks in 2006 and 2007 such that the Village had 201 or more employees in those years. The court will then determine if Geraty's compensatory damages should be capped at $100, 000 (the cap associated with 200 or fewer employees) or $200, 000 (the cap associated with 201 or more employees).
I. TITLE VII'S DAMAGES CAP
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3) establishes damages caps in Title VII cases. It provides that:
The sum of the amount of compensatory damages awarded... for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses... shall not exceed, for each complaining party -
(A) in the case of a respondent who has more than 14 and fewer than 101 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, $50, 000;
(B) in the case of a respondent who has more than 100 and fewer than 201 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, $100, 000; [and]
(C) in the case of a respondent who has more than 200 and fewer than 501 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, $200, 000....
The Antioch Fire Department ("AFD") serves the Village of Antioch. The AFD consists of volunteers, as the Village does not maintain a force of full-time firefighters. The Village pays volunteer firefighters only for responding to emergencies. The Village does not pay volunteer firefighters for time spent on non-firefighting tasks, such as participation in training programs.
The Village contends, based on its payroll records, that during 2006 and 2007, it employed between 169 and 173 individuals on a non-volunteer basis and paid 27 volunteer firefighters. Geraty contends that during this time period, the Village had at least 80 volunteer firefighters (including the 27 paid volunteers). In support, she has submitted an affidavit from John Lucas, a former Village volunteer firefighter. Dkt. 272-1 at 13. According to Lucas, to work as an AFD volunteer firefighter, an individual must go through a hiring process, complete training, and be selected to serve by the Chief of the Fire Department.
The record before the court regarding the Village's relationship with its volunteer firefighting force is sparse. The Village asserts that only volunteers who received compensation, as reflected in its payroll records, count as employees for Title VII purposes. Based on this position, the Village relies exclusively on its payroll records to establish the number of employees. In response, Geraty stresses that the Village has not provided documents showing the full scope of work performed by volunteer firefighters (such as fire department run sheets) or disclosed whether it provides workers' compensation, insurance coverage, or other benefits to its volunteer firefighting force.
The crux of the present dispute is whether AFD volunteer firefighters who provide services on an ad hoc basis are employees for the purposes of Title VII. Title VII's "definitions of employer' and employee' are circular - an employee is someone employed by an employer - and refer neither to volunteers nor to payment or receipt of remuneration." Volling v. Antioch Rescue Squad, No. 11 C 04920, 2012 WL 6021553 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 4, 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b) & (f)); see Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323 (1992) (stating that "ERISA's nominal definition of'employee' as any individual employed by an employer'... is completely circular and explains nothing").
The Village contends that volunteer firefighters are employees for Title VII purposes if they pass two hurdles which turn on the amount of money that volunteers received and the number of hours that they worked. First, the Village champions the use of the "payroll method" to determine if volunteer firefighters are employees. According to the Village, an individual receives sufficient remuneration to be an employee if, "as a matter of economic reality" she is dependent on the business to which she renders service. (Dkt. 277, Def.'s Resp. at 6.) The Village asks the court to review payroll records to determine if the volunteer firefighters satisfied this test. Second, the Village contends that to the extent that payroll records show that a volunteer firefighter is financially dependent on the Village, a volunteer is an employee only if she worked for the Village for at least 20 weeks per calendar year in both 2006 and 2007. The Village also contends that elected officials, political appointees, and police commissioners are not countable as "employees."
Based on these positions, the Village asserts that it had between 101 and 200 employees in 2006 and 2007, resulting in a damages cap of $100, 000. Geraty, on the other hand, contends that at least 80 volunteer firefighters were employees during this time, for a total of at least 249 employees. This would result in a damages cap of $200, 000. For the following reasons, the "payroll method" described by the Village is inapplicable. In addition, the Village has failed to carry its burden of establishing that it did not have an employment relationship with its volunteer firefighters and is bound by its decision to attempt to establish this issue using payroll records. Finally, based on the current record, the court cannot determine the number of volunteer firefighters who worked for at least 20 weeks in 2006 and 2007. As detailed below, the parties shall confer and attempt to reach agreement on this issue.
A. The Payroll Method
According to the Village, if an individual is not on the Village's payroll, by definition, she cannot be an employee. This is consistent with ...