In a victory for employers yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a narrow, bright-line standard to determine who counts as a supervisor in Title VII harassment suits.
In Vance v Ball State, a 5-4 decision, the Court affirmed summary judgment in a racial harassment suit and held that an employee only counts as a supervisor who can render an employer vicariously liable under Title VII if the employee is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim. These tangible actions include hiring, firing, promoting, reassigning significantly different tasks or causing changes to benefits. As a result, an employee who merely directs another worker’s day-to-day activities does not qualify as a supervisor in a Title VII harassment suit.
While this is certainly good news for employers, employers should still focus on preventing harassment in the first place. Adopt a clear policy prohibiting harassment which contains an effective reporting mechanism and enforce that policy. Train your workforce on what constitutes harassment and how to prevent it and report it in accordance with your policy. And if a complaint is made, investigate it promptly and thoroughly and take effective corrective action based on the results of your investigation. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.