Supreme Court Reviews Workplace Harassment Rules

Who is a supervisor? That’s the question in a workplace harassment case now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reuters reports that the case could ultimately impact when a company can be held liable for harassing behavior by its employees.

The case was brought by food-service worker at Ball State University who claims she suffered racial harassment by a catering specialist there who directed the worker’s activities but had no hiring, firing or disciplinary power.

Reuters reports that earlier High Court rulings have held that if a supervisor harassed a subordinate, the employer was automatically accountable. But when the harassment is between two coworkers on equal footing, the employer is not liable unless it acted negligently.

However, opinion is now divided in the federal courts over who exactly can be called a supervisor. According to some circuits, writes Reuters, the definition of “supervisor” means those who have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote or discipline. Meanwhile, others define a supervisor more broadly as someone who directs and oversees a colleague’s daily work.

Business groups filed briefs showing their support for the narrow definition of the term used by the 7th, 1st, and 8th Circuits. The narrower definition is more business-friendly as it cuts down on a company’s potential liability. Meanwhile, the lawyers for the plaintiff in Vance v. Ball State University state that the stricter definition does not include the practical reality of the workplace, reports Reuters.

If you or a loved one has suffered a workplace injury, contact Sokolove Law today for a free legal consultation and to find out if you have grounds to pursue legal action.

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