Willamette Law Online

United States Supreme Court Certiorari Granted


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Vance v. Ball State University

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 25, 2012
Case #: 11-556
646 F3d 461 (7th Cir. 2011)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/docs.fwx?submit=rss_sho&shofile=08-3568_002.pdf

Employment Law: Whether "supervisor" liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to harassment by individuals the employer has vested with authority to direct and oversee alleged victims’ work, or is limited to individuals who are empowered to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” the alleged victim.

Twelve years after starting work in Respondent’s Banquet and Catering Department, Petitioner filed two actions with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming discrimination by her direct supervisor and co-workers.

The District Court granted summary judgment for Respondent. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's judgment, finding that the claims against the supervisor failed to establish that his actions were racially motivated in character or purpose. Additionally, the Seventh Circuit found that the co-workers did not fall under the classification of supervisor, and therefore Respondent was not vicariously liable under Title VII. Further, Respondent met its obligations under Title VII by promptly investigating all of Petitioner’s claims and pursuing disciplinary action when appropriate.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the “supervisor” liability rule (1) applies to harassment by individuals the employer has vested with authority to direct and oversee alleged victims work, or whether (2) the rule is limited to individuals who are empowered to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” the alleged victim. Petitioner argues that there is a circuit split as to when the rule applies. Additionally, Petitioner argues that the Seventh Circuit's rule is wrong when many companies have managers that can run worksites, but do not have the power over employee's employment.