Physician with Hospital Practice Privileges not an Employee of the Hospital for Purposes of Title VII Discrimination Claims

On May 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a hospital on Title VII employment discrimination claims brought by a physician whose practice privileges were terminated by the hospital.  Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital, No. 16-3774 (7th Cir. May 8, 2019).  The physician sued the hospital, alleging that it terminated her hospital practice privileges on the basis of her sex, religion, and ethnicity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  The hospital argued that the physician was not an employee of the hospital and, therefore, her Title VII discrimination claims were precluded.  The district court found that she was an independent physician with practice privileges at the hospital, not the hospital's employee.

The question on appeal was whether the physician was an employee of the hospital for purposes of Title VII.  Title VII only protects employees from employment discrimination.  To determine whether an employment relationship exists, courts consider the economic realities of the relationship and the degree of control that the employer exercises over the alleged employee.  Relevant factors include: (1) the extent of the employer's control and supervision over the worker; (2) the kind of occupation and nature of the skill required; (3) the responsibility for the costs of the operation; (4) the method and form of payment and benefits; and (5) the length of the job commitment.  Applying these factors, the 7th Circuit has repeatedly held that a physician with hospital practice privileges is not the hospital's employee merely because she is subject to peer review.  The most important factor for determining employment status is an employer's right to control.  The right to control an employee generally comes from contractual and other workplace terms that govern the parties' relationship, not an isolated peer-review proceeding.  Thus, the physician was not an employee of the hospital, which precluded her Title VII discrimination claims.