Vance. v. Ball State

In Title VII employment discrimination actions, an employer cannot be held liable if the individual that committed such alleged discriminatory acts, did not have supervisory power including but not limited to the ability to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline an employee.

In this case, an employee filed a discrimination and sexual harassment claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) against a co-worker. The trial court dismissed such claims on the basis that the co-worker, who allegedly engaged in such discrimination and sexual harassment could not be held vicariously liable since the co-workers was not in a supervisory position and did not act negligently.

The Appeals Courts

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that for certain Title VII claims to be cognizable, that the alleged conduct must be conducted by an individual in a supervisory capacity, which means that the individual have the ability to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline an employee. The Court reasoned that since the co-worker at issue did not have the ability to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline an employee, that they did not rise to the level of supervisor and therefore, such Title VII claims were not valid against the employer.

The U.S. Supreme Court similarly affirmed, specifically noting that the legal test for purposes of Title VII claims, an employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim. Further the U.S. Supreme Court noted that generally, an employer is strictly liable in situations where a supervisor imposes a tangible employment action on an employee such as an inappropriate firing or hiring but that an employer has a number of available affirmative defenses, including for instance where such allegations involves co-workers and not supervisors, and where in such situations, such negligence by a non-supervisory worker cannot be imputed to the employer. Such holding by the Court, essentially imposed a limit on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)’s interpretation that a responsible employee only needs the ability to exercise significant direction over another’s daily work to be considered a supervisor. The significance of this case is that it highlights the differences in liability between supervisors and non-supervisors, and provides employer notice in this regard.

Employment based claims involving a large employer requires a law firm that is experienced, competent, and knowledgeable concerning the complexities of employment discrimination issues pursuant to Title VII. If you have any employment-related dispute and are considering suing your employer for Title VII discrimination claims contact the Orange County Employment Lawyers at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

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