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Who is the Supervisor? Supreme Court Resolves Long Simmering Question Under Title VII

Posted in Harassment, Labor Law

By:  Chuck Post

In Vance v. Ball State University, the Supreme Court clarified a long open question, “Who is a supervisor under Title VII?” The question is important because employers are directly responsible for employee harassment by a supervisor. In the case of worker harassment of a co-worker, however, employer liability is less direct. In the last 15 years, a split has developed in lower courts. One group of courts has held that a supervisor is someone who directs and oversees an employee’s daily work, while other courts have held that a supervisor is someone who has the authority, on behalf of the employer, to hire, fire, demote, transfer or discipline the employee.

The Supreme Court has clarified that split, finding in favor of those who define supervisor as someone who is “empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions” against a complaining employee. Practically speaking, that means that a supervisor (for purposes of Title VII) is someone who has the power to hire, fire or discipline an employee. This is good news for employers.