The U.S. Supreme Court issued two important employment-law decisions this week and, surprising to many of us, both came out in favor of employers. Both cases will have significant impact on employment lawsuits but one of the two is of of particular interest to me because it has been an issue I’ve faced in prior cases of my own.
In Vance v. Ball State University, the Supreme Court was asked to decide what it means to be an employee’s “supervisor” for purposes of Title VII. In short, the Court held that an individual can be considered to be a supervisor only if he or she has been empowered by the employer to take “tangible employment action” against the employee who claims to have been harassed.
And what, exactly, is a “tangible employment action,” you ask? Basically, it means the power to effectuate significant change in the victim’s employment status. So the power to hire, fire, demote, etc., is the power to effectuate a tangible employment action. If the individual does not have the authority to fire, transfer, or demote the victim, then the individual is not considered to be the victim’s supervisor.