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On November 26, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in arguably the most important employment law case to reach our Nation’s highest Court in the last several years.  The case is Vance v. Ball State University, and the outcome will determine precisely who is considered a “supervisor” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibitions against unlawful discrimination in the workplace.  This case is specifically important for employment law attorneys, because employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee who is characterized as a “supervisor” of the victim –i.e.- an employee who was discriminated against and/or unlawfully harassed.

The concept of who is considered a “supervisor,” under Title VII, was classically defined in Farragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth.  These cases determined that a supervisor is someone who has the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” the employee/victim.  The traditional definition, however, completely leaves out the category of “loosely supervisory” employees who completely direct the activities of subordinate employees but lack the power to discipline or otherwise formally reprimand their subordinates.  It is precisely this kind of situation which is being addressed by the Supreme Court in Vance v. Ball State University.

In Vance, the employee/victim perceived the individual who was discriminating against her as her supervisor, because the individual, allegedly, directed her day-to-day activities.  The perceived supervisor, however, did not in fact have any power to formally reprimand or discipline the employee/victim.  As such, the main question the Supreme Court will decide is whether a “supervisor” is: (1) an employee with the power to directly affect the terms and conditions of the employee/victim’s employment –ie- the hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, transferring, or disciplining mentioned above; or (2) an employee who routinely has a tangible impact on the employee/victim’s employment through decision making processes such as directing the employee/victim’s day-to-day activities.

If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.


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