I got this question a bunch this week. Many people who are Deaf and a few interpreters are outraged because there is a multi-level marketing convention in town and it has refused to provide interpreters because it says that the Deaf attendees are not “employees.” The MLM is right, they are not employees-but 100% wrong that it does not need to provide interpreters for them.
If you are not familiar with the idea of an MLM, it’s one of those companies that sells soap or skin care products or essential oils or found some awful tasting fruit that they now sell as a health drink. They don’t sell them from stores or on-line. One person gets a few sales reps “under” them or in their “downline” who then get people “downline” from them and so on and so on… its a huge business.
Anyway. Most of these companies are run by lovely people, but every now and again I run into this issue. A Deaf person joins the group as a sales rep and buys a ticket to a MLM convention (where they have motivational speakers and sales trainings and opportunities to network and build your business) as all sales reps are encouraged to do. The person who is Deaf requests an interpreter and the MLM says no. The MLM doesn’t believe it has to because, as I said, the person who is Deaf does not “work” for the MLM; the person who is Deaf is not their “employee.” The MLM is right. The person who is Deaf is an independent contractor. If they try to force the issue using Title I the person who is Deaf will lose because Title I does not apply.
But, if you are not an employee you are “the public” and that falls under Title III. Once a person who is Deaf bought a ticket to the MLM event that person became a “qualified person with a disability” under Title III (I know the who disability thing leaves a bad taste in your mouth–I wrote a paper on it, me too–but if you want to use the ADA…). A person with a disability because the Deaf person is… well… Deaf, and qualified because a person is qualified to attend the MLM event if that person has a ticket to the event. So when the MLM said it would not provide interpreters the person who is Deaf got the last thing they needed to have “standing” (the legal ability) to sue.
[t]o establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she has suffered an ‘injury-in-fact’ that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to being merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by the relief requested. Tandy v. City of Wichita, 380 F.3d 1277, 1283 (10th Cir. 2004).
MLM’s at this point will scream and cry that is not on the list of “places of public accommodation” that is contained within Title III, it is not a store nor does it maintain a place that “accommodates” the “public” (not the same thing as a reasonable accommodation— different thing/similar name… different discussion for a different time).
Again, the MLM is right. It is not on the list of “places of public accommodation” found in Title III. But the convention center it is using for the convention is.
“Oh,” you say, “so the convention center must provide the interpreter?” Nope. Well, the MLM can allocate the responsibility to provide interpreters to the convention center by contract… but usually the convention center will be responsible for the physical accessibility (more permanent structures) but the MLM is “operating” the venue (selling tickets, controlling access…) so the MLM would be responsible for non-structural access (psst. interpreters).
The person who is Deaf paid a price to attend the conference, the conference is held in statutorily defined place of public accommodation and the place public accommodation is operated, at least for the duration of the conference by the MLM, which Title III says makes the MLM, for the time frame of the conference at defacto public accommodation (even if the “lease” of the space is for a very short time).
So an “independent contractor” sales rep has the ability to enforce the ADA against an MLM using Title III, not because the person who is Deaf is an independent contractor… but because the person is NOT an employee, just a qualified member of the public.
I included a case that shows how it all works.
Jensen v United First Financial
This blog and the attached vlog are informational but not meant to be legal advice or replace discussing your situation with a licensed attorney in your area.