Frey v. Hotel Coleman, No. 17-2267 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Hotel Coleman owned a Holiday Inn Express franchise. Vaughn ran daily operations, including hiring, supervising, and discharging employees, and determining compensation. Frey and other Hotel workers were on Hotel Coleman’s payroll; the management agreement stated that all personnel “are in the employ of” the Hotel. Vaughn hired Frey in 2008. Frey alleged that Vaughn subjected her to unwelcome sexual comments and advances. Frey objected and complained to the housekeeping manager, but the behavior went unchecked. After Frey informed Vaughn that she was pregnant, Vaughn reduced her hours and took other steps in retaliation. During Frey’s maternity leave, she filed a charge with the EEOC. One week after she returned from leave, Vaughn fired her for allegedly stealing another employee’s phone. Frey sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The court accepted Vaughn’s argument that it was not an employer; granted Vaughn summary judgment on Frey’s sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and Title VII retaliation claims; and entered summary judgment against Hotel Coleman. A jury awarded Frey $45,000 in compensatory damages; the court awarded her $13,520 in back pay. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that Vaughn was a joint employer. The existence of a joint employment relationship is analyzed under an “economic realities” test which considers the extent of the employer’s control over the worker; the kind of occupation and skill required; responsibility for the costs of operation; method of payment and benefits; and length of job commitment or expectations.