In a case that could potentially have far-reaching impact, the U.S. Supreme
Court has agreed to accept a case that deals with the question –
“who is an employer?” At first glance, this seems like a straightforward
question however, it is a complicated inquiry that even courts don’t
always agree on. For example – can a supervisor who directs and
oversees your daily tasks be considered your employer? What if they don’t
have the authority to hire you or fire you? The line defining just who
is an employer or an employee is much more complex than many people think.
Further, determining who falls into which category is significant. It may
mean the difference between companies being held liable and required to
pay damages for employment discrimination and finding them innocent.
If you have questions about potential employment discrimination, it’s
a good idea to speak to a knowledgeableAtlanta employment discrimination lawyer who can help you sort things out.
The case that raises this question is
Vance v. Ball State University. In Vance, Maetta Vance – a black catering assistant – alleged
that her white co-workers and supervisors racially harassed her. The 7th
Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Vance had not shown “employer
liability.” Although an employer may strictly liable for supervisor
harassment, the court ruled that Vance did not demonstrate that her supervisors’
conduct was motivated by race and that her allegations did not sufficiently
establish a hostile work environment.
The Seventh Circuit also said Vance failed to show Ball State was liable
for purported co-worker harassment because the university took reasonable
corrective action in response to Vance’s multiple complaints. The
appellate court considered Davis to be Vance’s co-worker and not
a supervisor because it found no evidence showing Davis had the power
to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline employees.
Vance argued in response that one of the alleged harassers – Saundra
Davis – was actually a supervisor and not co-worker based on the
fact that she did not “clock in” like the other hourly employee did.
When a person may be considered a supervisor is disputed in the courts
across the United States. Some circuits believe that supervisor is an
individual who has authority to make tangible actions that affect a worker’s
formal employment status.
Meanwhile, several other circuits, along with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, have concluded that an employee who lacks such authority nonetheless
may be considered a “supervisor” if he or she directs other
employees’ day-to-day work activities.
In argument for the Supreme Court to review this case, the Solicitor General
noted “the Seventh Circuit’s interpretation would undermine
Title VII’s primary objective, which is “not to provide redress
but to avoid harm.”
“If employers face vicarious liability only for supervisors with
power to take tangible employment actions, employers could insulate themselves
from liability simply by centralizing personnel decisions in a department
that may have indirect or infrequent contact with the victim, leaving
workers vulnerable to harassment by those with the greatest day-to-day
ability to create intolerable working conditions,” Verrilli said.
Additionally, the Seventh Circuit definition is inconsistent with EEOC’s
1999 guidance, which defined “supervisor” as an individual
who “has authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment
decisions affecting the employee,” or who “has authority to
direct the employee’s daily work activities,” the solicitor
general said. EEOC’s consistent position “warrants a measure
of deference,” he said.
As Georgia discrimination lawyers dedicated to prevent work place discrimination,
we will be following this case closely.
For more information or if you believe you have been the victim of work
place discrimination, please contact the top
Georgia employment discrimination lawyers at The Buckley Law Firm, LLC for an immediate consultation.