Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Definition of Supervisor in Job Bias Suit

October 29, 2012

Supreme Court

ACE, Higher Education Groups File Brief

ACE and a coalition of higher education groups have submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Ball State University (IN) in a case that could decide who can be considered a “job supervisor” in a federal workplace discrimination lawsuit.

The case on appeal was filed by Ball State catering worker Maetta Vance, whose discrimination claim against the university was dismissed after a federal appeals court said her alleged harasser did not qualify as a supervisor.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states an employer can be held liable for discrimination against an employee based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Under longstanding legal principles, a corporation can be held liable for acts of its agents of sufficient authority, generally for acts of a supervisor. The Act does not define who may be supervisor, and the courts have differed on the topic.

Vance claimed that she was subject to intermittent harassment by various Ball State employees, including co-workers. She filed complaints with the Ball State Office of University Compliance, and later the NAACP and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for race, gender and age discrimination. The case was filed in federal court in 2006.

The federal district court granted summary judgment for Ball State, finding that the co-worker named in the suit was not Vance’s supervisor for Title VII purposes because she did not have the requisite power to affect the terms and conditions of Vance’s employment. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this ruling, noting that the university investigated each complaint thoroughly and in a timely manner, and that there was no basis for employer liability.

ACE’s brief argues that the case was properly decided and that the agency-based test for the definition of supervisor for Title VII purposes is the most appropriate one in a higher education setting.

“The legal definition assists employers in identifying those who have meaningful control over other employees’ activities and who thus may reasonably be considered supervisors,” said ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy. “This is of particular importance to the higher education community as employers of over three million workers in a wide variety of jobs. The shifting nature of employee relationships, if subjected to a very broad definition of supervisor, would make colleges and universities liable for discrimination when there is no notice of events at a sufficient level of authority to take action to prevent or stop it.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case on Nov. 26.

For further reading, see SCOTUSBlog.

Other ACE News

  • May 29, 2015

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    In today’s headlines, Inside Higher Ed reports on the status of public higher education funding in Illinois, Louisiana and Wisconsin, and Reuters covers the court decision upholding federal “gainful employment” rules. In other news, The Associated...

  • Innovative Practices

    May 27, 2015

    Quick Hit Students in Classroom

    ACE Releases Quick Hit Paper on Predictive Analytics

    Higher education is at a pivotal point in the use of data to improve student success, according to "Moving the Needle on Predictive Analytics," the latest brief released by ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation.

  • Credit for Prior Learning

    May 27, 2015

    Register Now for Free Webinar on Military Credit

    ​Register now for Mapping Military Training & Occupations to Postsecondary Credentials, a two-part webinar scheduled for June 16 and June 18.

  • Innovative Practices

    May 22, 2015

    alternative credit project

    Calling All Proposals for ACE Alternative Credit Consortium

    Institutions demonstrating a strong commitment to access and attainment, particularly those serving nontraditional students, are invited to submit proposals to join the second wave of ACE’s alternative credit consortium.

  • Law and the Courts

    May 22, 2015

    Library with Colorful Books

    Access and Diversity Collaborative Issues Syllabus

    Designed to map relevant issues about campus diversity and direct institutions to important resources that can help them understand these issues, develop effective policies and mitigate legal risk.

 

 Related Content