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Philadelphia Employment Law Attorneys Await Supreme Court Decision on Workplace Harassment and Hostile Workplace Lawsuit

March 7th, 2013

Employers are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on Vance vs. Ball State University because it has the potential to redefine the parameters of employer liability in workplace discrimination lawsuits.  In the case of Vance vs. Ball State University, an employee of Ball State claims that she was subjected to racial harassment by her co-workers and when she complained she suffered from a hostile work environment and retaliation in the workplace. She sued Ball State University claiming protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on race, religion, sex, age, or national origin. 

Ball State University maintained that none of the co-workers identified in the harassment lawsuit held any position of authority, and are therefore Ball State is not legally liable for their actions.  According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer can be held liable if a person of authority, such as a supervisor who has the power to hire, assign, demote, discipline, or terminate a worker, harasses or discriminates against an employee. Since Ball State University claims that none of the employees named in the suit  had the power to hire, demote, terminate. . .  the plaintiff, they were not her “supervisor” and therefore the University was not liable for damages from their racial harassment of the plaintiff.

There is a clear precedent, set by previous case law, that maintains that under Title VII, an employer is vicariously liable for severe or pervasive workplace harassment by a “supervisor” of the victim; however, if the harasser was the victim’s co-employee, the employer is not liable absent proof of negligence. In this case, the University moved for summary judgment in the federal district court arguing that harassment by a person whom the employer deemed a “supervisor” and who had the authority to direct and oversee the victim’s daily work could not give rise to vicarious liability for the employer because the harasser did not also have the power to take formal employment actions against the plaintiff. The court agreed and dismissed the harassment suit.

The plaintiff-employee appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the lower court. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the plaintiff’s appeal in November of 2012 and employment law attorneys, employers and employees are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s opinion. Deciding whether “supervisor” liability rule applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim’s daily work, or whether the rule is limited to those harassers who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” their victims, the Supreme Court’s decision could force employers to re-evaluate their current job titles and responsibilities to avoid facing increase liability in employment discrimination suits.

Philadelphia Employment Law Attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates Eagerly Anticipate the Supreme Court Decision in Vance vs. Ball State University

The Pennsylvania & New Jersey employment law attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Vance vs. Ball State University harassment suit.  For over 25 years, Sidney L. Gold & Associates’ employment discrimination attorneys have represented countless victims of racial discrimination in the workplace in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Our highly qualified and skilled employment attorneys possess expansive knowledge and understanding of discrimination and employment laws and our team is recognized as one of the highest quality employment law firms in the state of Pennsylvania. We are dedicated to helping our clients seek the justice and compensation they deserve. If you believe you have been a victim of workplace discrimination or harassment, call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.

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