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New Jersey Employment Lawyers Discuss Two Supreme Court Decisions on Workplace Discrimination

July 12th, 2013
Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates P.C., Protect the Rights of Workers.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey workplace discrimination plaintiffs will now have a more difficult time holding an employer responsible for discrimination in the workplace because of two recent Supreme Court decisions.  In the first case, Vance v. Ball State, a caterer attempted to hold her employer responsible for a hostile work environment created by a co-worker who oversaw her day-to-day work-load.   This case was previously discussed on this blog on March 7, 2013.

Holding an Employer Accountable for Discrimination by a Co-Worker Now More Difficult

Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an employer is automatically liable for employment discrimination if the employee is experiencing discrimination at the hands of a supervisor.  However, if an employee experiences discrimination by a co-worker, the employer is only responsible if the employee reported the discrimination to management, and management was negligent in handling the complaint.   In Vance, the plaintiff argued that the co-worker who harassed her should be considered a supervisor because he had the authority to control her daily activities and evaluate her performance.  The Supreme Court rejected that argument, holding that a “supervisor” must be an individual who can take “tangible employment action against an employee.”

The Court found that, in order to be deemed a “supervisor” under the Civil Rights Act, an individual must be able to make a significant change in employment status of the victim of discrimination, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassigning the victim with significantly different responsibilities, or making a decision that can cause a significant change in the victim’s benefits.   This decision means that, in order to hold the employer responsible for discrimination by a co-worker, even one who oversees the victims day-to-day duties, the victim must now go the extra step of proving that they reported the discrimination up the chain of command and that the employer was negligent in handling that report.  The Vance decision could also cause employers to begin redefining job titles and responsibilities for supervisors.  Specifically, employers may begin significantly limiting the number of employees to whom they give responsibility for making decisions regarding hiring, firing, and promotions.

Second Case Makes Retaliation in the Workplace More Difficult to Prevent

The second recent Supreme Court decision makes it more difficult for employees to hold an employer responsible for illegal retaliation.  The Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from taking retaliatory action against an employee for making a complaint of discrimination.   In University of Texas v. Nassar, a doctor claimed that his employer blocked a job opportunity after he complained about his supervisor’s racially discriminatory comments.

Pursuant to a 1989 case, a victim of retaliation only had to show that discrimination was one of the employers’ motives for making the employment decision.  In Nassar, the Courts held that a victim of retaliation must show that the only reason for the negative employment action was the employee’s complaint of discrimination.  This decision, while limiting an employee’s ability to recover for retaliation, still requires an employer to have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking action against an employee.   This means that an employer still cannot fire an employee without a valid reason unrelated to their report of workplace discrimination.

New Jersey Employment Lawyers At Sidney L. Gold & Associates Can Help You Navigate Your Employment Discrimination Claim

The Supreme Court Decisions in Vance v. Ball State and University of Texas v. Nassar may make it more difficult to recover from an employer as a victim of workplace discrimination.  Despite these setbacks, the experienced employment discrimination attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates are committed to helping victims receive the compensation they deserve.  With our law offices located in downtown Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  If you believe that you have been a victim of employment discrimination, contact the law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates today at 215-569-1999, or contact us online to schedule an appointment for a consultation.

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