I was born and raised in Chicago, went to law school here, and have been an Illinois attorney since 1997. Yet I just heard of a newspaper called Final Call. It was apparently founded in 1979 by Louis Farrakhan.
While I just heard of it, I did learn that they have a lot in common with trucking companies, construction firms, and a whole host of other businesses. They tried to get out of providing workers’ compensation benefits by calling someone an independent contractor when clearly they weren’t.
In this case that I just read about, a photographer for Final Call was taking a city bus to go cover a story, and he slipped on a step and injured his knee. Boy did this paper do everything possible to try to avoid paying benefits.
First, they asserted that as a non-profit, religious institution, they were not bound by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. That claim is absurd and was soundly rejected.
The other part of their defense was claiming that the photographer was not an employee, but instead an independent contractor. Now I’m going to give you some facts entered at the trial and you can tell me if this sounds like an employee or an independent contractor:
- He was listed on the newspaper as a staff photographer.
- The newspaper determined his schedule.
- He had to get approval before pursuing any stories.
- The newspaper provided the cameras.
- He was paid bi-weekly the same amount regardless of the number of hours worked or pictures taken.
- He had to report to the office when not on assignment.
All of this is from unrebutted testimony. Not to mention that common sense tells you that taking pictures is part of what a newspaper does.
Despite all of this, the newspaper fought benefits for more than a decade, taking the case all of the way to the Illinois Appellate Court. It’s arguable that the attorney could have been more aggressive for the worker, but that doesn’t change the fact that the employer fought a case that clearly should not have been fought. I wasn’t a part of this case, but can’t imagine what arguments they tried to make to say he didn’t work there. He had to report to the office! It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
And it’s not like this is some unique story where this employer is the only one out there trying to avoid following the law. It happens over and over. The good news is that if you do get an attorney who knows what they are doing, it’s a problem that can be solved. But it’s shameful it even came to this. Credit to the paper for coming up with a defense I could have never imagined by claiming the laws don’t apply to them. Thankfully they lost in the end. I’m just curious if there have been other workers who didn’t get benefits over the years because they were told that they didn’t have to be given.