May an independent contractor have a claim for discrimination or harassment against an employer?

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

It depends. On the federal level, the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and similar federal equal opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment extend only to employees, and not independent contractors, consultants or freelancers. In order to obtain the protection of federal civil rights laws, an individual must prove that he or she is a legally defined employee based on hours, duties and responsibilities. On the other hand, an independent contractor may be able to recover based on Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act which protects the right to enter into a contract, including an independent contractor's right to work for an organization. In addition, there are some state laws that extend discrimination and harassment protections to independent contractors. Further, some state courts have determined that equal opportunity laws cover independent contractors.