116 F.3d 310 (8th Cir. 1997), 96-2294, Birchem v. Knights of Columbus

Docket Nº:96-2294.
Citation:116 F.3d 310
Party Name:Keith BIRCHEM, Plaintiff--Appellant, v. KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS; Daniel N. Wentz, Defendants--Appellees.
Case Date:May 30, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 310

116 F.3d 310 (8th Cir. 1997)

Keith BIRCHEM, Plaintiff--Appellant,

v.

KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS; Daniel N. Wentz, Defendants--Appellees.

No. 96-2294.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

May 30, 1997

Submitted Feb. 13, 1997.

Page 311

Timothy Hill (argued), Fargo, North Dakota, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Paul D. Clement, Washington, DC, argued (Thomas D. Yannucci, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellees.

Before MAGILL, BEAM, and LOKEN, Circuit Judges.

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

Terminated insurance agent Keith Birchem appeals the dismissal of his claims for disability discrimination, breach of contract, retaliatory discharge, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court 1 granted summary judgment primarily on the ground that Birchem was an independent contractor, not an employee. We affirm.

Knights of Columbus ("KOC") is a non-profit fraternal benefit society that offers life insurance and annuities to members of the Catholic Church. Daniel N. Wentz is KOC's general insurance agent in eastern North Dakota. In July 1988, Wentz appointed Birchem a KOC field agent, granting him the exclusive right to sell KOC policies to members

Page 312

of four Catholic churches. The appointment was reflected in a Field Agent Contract between KOC, Wentz, and Birchem. The contract was renewed in 1990 and 1992.

During two of his years as a KOC field agent, Birchem was Wentz's lowest producer, and Birchem never placed better than sixth out of eight Wentz agents in overall performance. Even in his best year, Birchem received a letter from KOC warning that his production had fallen below the minimum needed to retain pension and health benefits. Two agents with performance histories similar to Birchem's resigned during this period. In the summer of 1992, Birchem began looking for a new position, speaking with general agents for several other insurers and investigating the purchase of an independent agency.

That fall, the Wentz field agents attended a joint conference with KOC agents from Minnesota. Birchem told other field agents that Wentz was encouraging agents to engage in improper competitive practices. Birchem also said that he no longer wished to work for Wentz and was looking for another position. Wentz and Birchem met on October 12 to discuss Birchem's comments. Birchem told Wentz that he felt uncomfortable coming to the office and had lost all respect for Wentz because of his marketing practices. Wentz said that he felt that his relationship with Birchem was irretrievably damaged. In early November, Wentz told Birchem to resign or be fired. Birchem resigned on November 5 and began working for a competing insurer one month later.

Birchem filed this wrongful termination suit, claiming that he was constructively discharged in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12112 ("ADA"), and the North Dakota Human Rights Act, N.D.C.C. § 14-02.4-03 ("NDHRA"), because Wentz would not accommodate Birchem's disability, bipolar disorder or manic depression. Birchem also asserted pendent claims for unlawful retaliation, because Birchem had accused Wentz of improper trade practices; breach of an oral contract not to terminate the written Field Agent Contract so long as Birchem met minimum production objectives; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

At the close of discovery, KOC and Wentz moved for summary judgment. Both sides filed extensive fact submissions. At the motion hearing, the district court raised an issue not briefed by the parties--whether field agent Birchem was an employee or an independent contractor. The parties submitted additional fact materials on that issue, and the court then granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants. It concluded that Birchem was an independent contractor and therefore not protected by the ADA, the NDHRA, or the North Dakota public policy against retaliatory discharge of a whistle blower. Alternatively, the court concluded that Birchem has no evidence of a pretextual discharge. It dismissed his contract claim because the Field Agent Contract was terminable at will and may not be varied by Wentz's prior oral representations. Finally, the court held that Birchem could not prove the "extreme and outrageous conduct" necessary for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Birchem appeals each of those rulings.

I. Birchem's ADA Claim.

A. The Employee Issue. Like Title VII, the ADA protects "employees" but not independent contractors. See Wilde v. County of Kandiyohi, 15 F.3d 103, 104 (8th Cir.1994). The Act defines an "employee" as "an individual employed by an employer." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(4). When Congress uses this "completely circular" definition, courts apply the general common law of agency to distinguish between protected employees and unprotected independent contractors. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323 & n. 3, 112 S.Ct. 1344, 1348 & n. 3, 117 L.Ed.2d 581 (1992).

In applying the common law of agency test, the Supreme Court looks at the large number of factors that define the parties' total contractual relationship, no one of which is determinative. See Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 751-53, 109 S.Ct. 2166, 2178-80, 104 L.Ed.2d 811 (1989), followed in Darden, 503 U.S. at 323-24, 112 S.Ct. at 1348-49. The Court "typically

Page 313

weighs the common-law factors listed in the Restatement [ (Second) of Agency § 220(2) (1958) ] and some additional factors related to the worker's economic situation, like how the work relationship may be terminated, whether the worker receives yearly leave, whether the worker accrues retirement benefits, and whether the hiring party pays social security taxes." Wilde, 15 F.3d at 105. We review the ultimate question of employment status de novo. See Berger Transfer & Storage v. Central States, S.E. & S.W. Areas Pension Fund, 85 F.3d 1374, 1378 (8th Cir.1996).

We agree with the district court that Birchem and KOC had an independent contractor relationship. First, each Field Agent Contract expressly provided that "[n]othing contained in this Agreement shall be construed to create the relationship of employer and employee between" KOC and Birchem, KOC and Wentz, or Wentz and Birchem. 2 Second, the parties' financial relationship strongly suggests Birchem was an independent contractor. He was paid on a commission basis, KOC did not withhold income taxes from his commissions, and Birchem reported his KOC earnings as income of a self-employed individual for federal tax purposes. Third, the unrefuted affidavit of a Vice President in KOC's Agency Department averred that KOC does not control a field agent's daily activities. Finally, federal courts have consistently held that insurance agents are unprotected independent contractors, and Birchem has cited no contrary authority. See, e.g., Oestman v. National Farmers Union Ins. Co., 958 F.2d 303 (10th Cir.1992) (ADEA); Knight v. United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 950 F.2d 377 (7th Cir.1991) (Title VII); United States EEOC v. Catholic Knights Ins. Soc'y, 915 F.Supp. 25 (N.D.Ill.1996) (Title VII); Robinson v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 899 F.Supp. 848 (D.N.H.1995) (ADA). Although some aspects of KOC's relationship with its field agents would be consistent with employment, the balance of factors clearly supports the district court's independent contractor determination.

Birchem asserts his ADA claim against Wentz, as well as KOC. Because...

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  • 251 F.R.D. 371 (S.D.Iowa 2008), 4:07-cv-00579-JEG-TJS, Quick v. EMCO Enterprises, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit
    • 29 Abril 2008
    ...supplemental jurisdiction where, as apparently here, the claim raises a novel issue of state law. See Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 314 (8th Cir.1997) (finding that novel issues required the plaintiff's pendent claims to be dismissed); Fielder, 188 F.3d at 1038; Saeemodarae,......
  • 711 A.2d 398 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1998), Pukowsky v. Caruso
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 10 Junio 1998
    ...contractors are not "employees" within the meaning of anti-discrimination statutes. See Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 314 (8th Cir.1997)(North Dakota Human Rights Act does not apply to independent contractors); Alexander v. Rush North Shore Med. [312 N.J.Super. 179......
  • Transport Labor Contract/Leasing, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 071405 ustax, 1188-01
    • United States
    • 14 Julio 2005
    ...TLC was the employer of each driver-employee. See Kirk v. Harter, 188 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 1999); Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 313 (8th Cir. 1997); Wilde v. County of Kandiyohi, 15 F.3d 103, 105-106 (8th Cir. 1994). [90] In addition, with respect to petitioner's a......
  • 1 S.W.3d 555 (Mo.App. W.D. 1999), 55679, Sloan v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals of Missouri
    • 20 Julio 1999
    ...Sch. Corp., 154 F.3d Page 562 744, 746 (7th Cir.1998) (ADEA does not protect independent contractors); Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 312 (8th Cir.1997) (ADA does not protect independent contractors); Knight v. United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 950 F.2d 377, 378-79 (7th Cir.1......
  • Free signup to view additional results
81 cases
  • 251 F.R.D. 371 (S.D.Iowa 2008), 4:07-cv-00579-JEG-TJS, Quick v. EMCO Enterprises, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit
    • 29 Abril 2008
    ...supplemental jurisdiction where, as apparently here, the claim raises a novel issue of state law. See Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 314 (8th Cir.1997) (finding that novel issues required the plaintiff's pendent claims to be dismissed); Fielder, 188 F.3d at 1038; Saeemodarae,......
  • 711 A.2d 398 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1998), Pukowsky v. Caruso
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 10 Junio 1998
    ...contractors are not "employees" within the meaning of anti-discrimination statutes. See Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 314 (8th Cir.1997)(North Dakota Human Rights Act does not apply to independent contractors); Alexander v. Rush North Shore Med. [312 N.J.Super. 179......
  • Transport Labor Contract/Leasing, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 071405 ustax, 1188-01
    • United States
    • 14 Julio 2005
    ...TLC was the employer of each driver-employee. See Kirk v. Harter, 188 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 1999); Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 313 (8th Cir. 1997); Wilde v. County of Kandiyohi, 15 F.3d 103, 105-106 (8th Cir. 1994). [90] In addition, with respect to petitioner's a......
  • 1 S.W.3d 555 (Mo.App. W.D. 1999), 55679, Sloan v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals of Missouri
    • 20 Julio 1999
    ...Sch. Corp., 154 F.3d Page 562 744, 746 (7th Cir.1998) (ADEA does not protect independent contractors); Birchem v. Knights of Columbus, 116 F.3d 310, 312 (8th Cir.1997) (ADA does not protect independent contractors); Knight v. United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 950 F.2d 377, 378-79 (7th Cir.1......
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