The United States Supreme Court will hear the case of Vance v. Ball State University in its upcoming term. The issue in Vance is whether an employee who oversees and directs other employees’ daily tasks, but lacks authority to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline them, is a “supervisor” as defined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since an employer is strictly liable for severe or pervasive harassment by a supervisor, but is only liable for actions of a coworker when it is negligent, the manner in which the Supreme Court defines “supervisor” will have important implications for employers under Title VII, and likely other employment statutes that similarly define a supervisor.
Different federal appellate jurisdictions have reached varied conclusions on specifically how expansive the definition of supervisor under Title VII should be. This decision can have a very broad impact on employer liability for discrimination issues.