In July, the Supreme Court made headlines with its same sex marriage and Voting Rights Act decisions, according to The Atlantic. However, while it did not make quite the same headlines, the Supreme Court’s ruling on workplace harassment was also made around that time and could have far-reaching implications of its own.
The case involved Maetta Vance, an African American dining hall worker at Ball State University in Indiana, and her allegations that her supervisory colleague, Saundra Davis, was racially harassing her. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that since Davis did not have the power to fire Vance but only to direct her activities on the job, she did not fit the definition of a supervisor, which meant the employer could not be held liable for her harassment.
“We hold that an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits,’” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who along with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan was on the losing side of the 5-4 decision, had this to say in her dissent of the majority opinion, “The court’s disregard for the realities of the workplace means that many victims of workplace harassment will have no effective remedy.”
Did you know?: EEOC reports there were nearly 100,000 job bias charges in fiscal year 2012.
Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob—Los Angeles discrimination lawyers