Supreme Court To Define ‘Supervisor’ in Sexual Harassment – The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the topic of a supervisor’s role when dealing with sexual harassment. What defines a supervisor? The answer will define potenial lawsuits against employers.
The case revolves around a 1989 case of Maetta Vance. Maetta, an African-American, worked at the Ball State University catering department and sued the university claiming that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment based on her ethnicity. She claimed that her supervisor used racial slurs and threatened her. The case was thrown out due to conflicting information from the two women.
The case was appealed to federal court who ultimately threw out the case since the harassing woman did not meet the description of a supervisor since she did not have authority to hire, fire or demote. It has since been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who will now review the definition of supervisor.
“There are lots of situations where people have power over other employees when they don’t have the power to fire them, to discipline them, to promote them, to set their wages or things like that,” says Daniel Ortiz, who represents Vance.
In fact, most of the appeals courts are now using the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of supervisor which can be defined the an individual who has authority to direct daily work activities.
The case before the Supreme Court is to review and resolve this conflict and, in doing so, establish a clear definition of supervisor for future cases. This has large implications because if a supervisor harasses a worker it makes the employer liable. If the claim comes from a co-worker than the employer is only liable if it can be proven they were negligent in resolving complaints.