August 24, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- The United States Supreme Court recently issued their decision in a case that could have repercussions in workplaces across the country. The case, Vance v. Ball State, involved a catering assistant working at Indiana's Ball State University who alleged she was both harassed and discriminated against in the workplace because of her race
The Supreme Court's verdict upholds that of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in favor of Ball State. The lower court found that since Vance had not proved that the person she accused of leading the harassment against her was a "supervisor," the University was not liable for that employee's discriminatory or harassing behavior.
A key definition
The crux of the Court's verdict is their narrow definition of the word "supervisor" in the employment law context. Most of us, regardless of our industry or career path, have had people above us on the business "food chain" that had some level of control over our day-to-day job functions and acted in somewhat of a management capacity. For most intents and purposes, those people can correctly be considered supervisors.
In employment law parlance, though, an employee must meet certain criteria to be classified as a supervisor and to trigger employer liability for harassing or discriminatory behavior that the supervisor exhibits against fellow employees. The Vance decision mandates that, under the anti-discrimination and harassment
rules set forth in Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, a supervisor is one who has the power not only to influence the day-to-day activities of the victim, but also the authority to take "tangible employment action[s]" against the victim.
The Court's majority opinion went further, explaining that in order for an employee to be considered a supervisor in this context, he or she must have the authority to make significant "changes in employment status, such as hiring
, firing, failing to promote [or] reassignment with significantly different responsibilities" or to make decisions that could cause a "significant change in benefits" for the victim such as cutting his or her hours.
While the Vance decision does narrow the definition of a supervisor for employment law purposes - particularly in those instances when it is hard to discern who is a "supervisor" compared to a "co-worker" - there are still multiple state and federal laws that expressly prohibit workplace harassment and discrimination. If you or a loved one is a victim of harassing or discriminatory behavior because of your race, age, gender, religious preference, nationality or other reason, seek the advice of an experienced employment law firm in your area.
Article provided by McCarthy Weisberg Cummings, P.C.
Visit us at www.discrimination-harassment-law.com