The U.S. Supreme Court Decides Who is a “Supervisor” for Title VII Purposes

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Vance v. Ball State University, one of the most-anticipated decisions of the Court’s 2012 Term. The Vance case concerns who is considered a “supervisor” for purposes of establishing an employer’s liability for hostile work environment harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, from which the case arose, and other lower courts which had defined “supervisor” to include only those individuals who possess the authority to fire, demote, promote, transfer, discipline or take some other tangible action against a harassment victim. The Court rejected the definition of “supervisor” proposed by the federal government, appearing as amicus curiae, and found in the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidelines, which links “supervisor” status to the ability to exercise direction over the victim’s daily work.