“Volunteers” Are Not “Employees”

I’m putting on my Heretic Hat again today because itĀ seems pretty straightforward that “volunteers” are not “employees.” Especially when a person applies for a volunteer reserve officer position and the applicant acknowledges in writing that “As a member of the Police Reserve Corps, I am not a regularly salaried officer of the [Los Angeles Police Department] and am not entitled to compensation for services rendered as a Police Reserve Officer.” And he never got paid. And he never had a position in the City’s classified civil service system. And he applied for a volunteer position.

In this case, the volunteer reserve officer, Frank Estrada, was injured while volunteering and received workers’ compensation benefits. This is because the LAPD provided coverage for these volunteers. Which was very thoughtful of them, I might add.

Well Mr. Estrada, in a move that can only be classified under the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished category, argued that since LAPD provided workers’ compensation benefits, that made him an employee and therefore entitled him to be able to seek relief under FEHA for his alleged disability discrimination.

So what started all of this?

Apparently Estrada’s real job involved a company he owned that was investigated by the FDA for selling illegal supplements. This investigation resulted in a complaint to LAPD’s Internal Affairs. Eventually, Estrada lost his position as a volunteer as a result of the investigation. Then he decided to sue LAPD alleging disability discrimination.

Talk about pretext! Getting the FDA involved and everything!!

Anyway, his case didn’t fly because the Court found Estrada was found to be a volunteer rather than an employee and therefore the FEHA offered him no relief.

This is the type of case that plaintiff’s attorneys should avoid, and the argument plaintiff made concerning workers’ compensation benefits is an argument plaintiff’s attorneys should not make because it will simply encourage other departments in similar situations to decline to provide workers’ compensation benfits for fear of converting a volunteer into an employee thus possibly opening up a big ol’ can of worms.

Who needs that?

At least the court got this one right, if this heretical plaintiff’s attorney says so himself.

Estrada v. City of Los Angeles, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 581.

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