November 22, 2014

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On The Radar: Supreme Court Set to Resolve Circuit Split as to Definition of Supervisor Under Title VII

The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to review a Seventh Circuit decision involving the definition of a “supervisor” under Title VII.  The case, Vance v. Ball State University, could have significant employment law ramifications because “supervisors” automatically subject an employer to vicarious liability for its supervisors’ harassing conduct.

Currently, the Seventh Circuit requires that employees have the authority “to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline an employee” to be considered a supervisor.  This bright-line, narrow definition ensures that alleged supervisors have the authority to “take tangible employment actions” against subordinates before liability will attach to the employer. On the other hand, the Second and Fourth Circuit (as well as the EEOC and the current United States Attorney General), consider an employee to be a supervisor when he or she has the authority to control the alleged victim’s daily work activities in a way that materially enables the harassment.  This latter standard is significantly broader than the Seventh Circuit formulation because it does not require the authority to hire, fire, promote, etc.

Arguments are scheduled for late November, and B&T Currents will be keeping a close eye on this important decision.

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About this Author

R. Holtzman Hedrick, Labor and Employment, Barnes Thornburg, Law firm
Associate

Holt Hedrick is an associate in the Indianapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg, where he is a member of the firm's Labor & Employment Law Department. Mr. Hedrick's practice focuses on a wide range of issues within the scope of labor and employment law, including discrimination suits, trade secrets, restrictive covenants, and employer consultations. Mr. Hedrick also has extensive experience as a commercial litigator, including defending companies against class actions, mass torts, federal privacy statutory claims, and breach of contract/warranty claims. Mr. Hedrick practices...

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