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Will Supreme Court strengthen or weaken harassment protections?

We’re in a university setting here, so let me give you a university hypo. There’s a professor, and the professor has a secretary. And the professor subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex, all right? But the professor has absolutely no authority to fire the secretary. What would the Seventh Circuit say about that situation? [Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan]

Would the Professor be considered the Secretary‘s supervisor in an harassment case — making the employer liable for his actions? I’ll give you the short answer offered up by the Obama Administration’s Deputy Solictor General Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan – NO. Today’s Supreme Court hearing on Vance v. Ball State featured intense questioning from the justices.  Vance’s attorney, Daniel Ortiz, argued “as Justice Kagan’s question revealed, it produces truly perverse results. Someone who can tell you what to do in your job day-to-day, manage you during the whole job period, what kind of tasks you have to do, was not necessarily considered a supervisor, while the person upstairs in human resources that you may never see or even know would be considered your supervisor.” (more…)

Are Companies Liable When Supervisors Harass Employees? Ask the Supreme Court

Maetta Vance was working at Ball State University when she was harassed by another employee who Vance alleged had the authority to tell her what to do and how to clock her hours. After filing repeated complaints, Vance sued the university for violating Title VII. The university argued that it could not be held liable because Vance’s harasser did not have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline her. Lower courts agreed. Vance appealed to the Supreme Court. [ Announcement of Friend of Court Brief filed by National Partnership For Women & Families ]

So, the question before the Supreme Court this Monday is whether or not the definition of supervisor in harassment cases should be limited to only those managers with the authority to hire and fire or discipline an employee.  According to Sarah Crawford, the director of Workplace Fairness, “the Court’s decision will have important ramifications for the ability of victims of supervisor harassment to hold their employers accountable…The case is a chance for the Court to affirm a standard that furthers the purposes of Title VII – to root out harassment and make clear that employers will be held accountable when supervisors violate the law. A contrary ruling will have grave consequences for victims of harassment and the rights guaranteed by our nation’s equal employment opportunity laws. ” (more…)

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