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Employment – harassment — employer liability

U.S. Supreme Court

Civil

Employment – harassment — employer liability

An employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.

The answer to the question presented in this case is implicit in the characteristics of the framework that the Court adopted in Ellerth and Faragher, which draws a sharp line between co-workers and supervisors and implies that the authority to take tangible employment actions is the defining characteristic of a supervisor. Ellerth, supra, at 762.

The interpretation of the concept of a supervisor adopted today is one that can be readily applied. An alleged harasser’s supervisor status will often be capable of being discerned before (or soon after) litigation commences and is likely to be resolved as a matter of law before trial. By contrast, the vagueness of the EEOC’s standard would impede the resolution of the issue before trial, possibly requiring the jury to be instructed on two very different paths of analysis, depending on whether it finds the alleged harasser to be a supervisor or merely a co-worker.

This approach will not leave employees unprotected against harassment by co-workers who possess some authority to assign daily tasks. In such cases, a victim can prevail simply by showing that the employer was negligent in permitting the harassment to occur, and the jury should be instructed that the nature and degree of authority wielded by the harasser is an important factor in determining negligence.

646 F. 3d 461, affirmed.

11-556 Vance v. Ball State University

 

Alito, J.; Thomas, J., concurring; Ginsburg, J., dissenting.

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