Having the power to grant, deny, or revoke hospital privileges does not give rise to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Yelena Levitin, M.D. v. Northwest Community Hospital.

For almost thirteen years, Dr. Yelena Levitin had performed surgeries at Northwest Community Hospital (the “Hospital”) as an attending physician. She had been granted privileges by the Hospital to send patients there for treatment and perform surgeries on her own patients there. The Hospital did not pay Dr. Levitin, she had her own medical practice, billed her patients directly, and filed taxes as a self-employed physician. She complained to Hospital leadership that a male surgeon had been harassing her. The Hospital reprimanded that physician and the alleged harassment ceased. Thereafter, other physicians filed complaints against Dr. Levitin related to her medical judgment. After further review of her practices, she was referred to the Medical Executive Committee, which voted to terminate her practice privileges.

Dr. Levitin filed suit, claiming, among other violations, that she suffered discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The District Court granted the Hospital’s motion for summary judgment, determining that “the undisputed evidence showed that Levitin was not a Northwest employee, which put her discrimination claim outside of Title VII’s scope.” On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed.

In determining whether an individual is an employee for the purposes of Title VII, courts look to the economic realities of the circumstances. The Seventh Circuit acknowledged that there could be circumstances where an indirect employer-employee relationship is formed when a Hospital holds so much control over a physician’s privileges, such that it impacts the physician’s treatment decisions. The employer’s right to control is key to such an analysis. The facts in this case did not support such a conclusion. Notably, Dr. Levitin had complete independence: she set her own hours, could use her own staff, and could perform surgeries at and direct patients to other hospitals. As such, Dr. Levitin was deemed not to be an employee of the Hospital.