“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Maetta Vance v. Ball State University is deeply troubling. It will undermine efforts to end harassment and advance equal opportunity. By failing to uphold a common sense definition of the term ‘supervisor’ and ignoring precedent, the Court demonstrated callous disregard for victims of harassment. This ruling will have grave consequences for them, and it will set back the civil rights on which we all depend. We will explore actions that Congress can take to help victims of supervisor harassment hold their employers accountable.
The Court ruled in favor of Ball State University in a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Alito. Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. At issue in this case was whether employers can be held vicariously liable for harassment only by those supervisors with formal authority to make ‘tangible’ employment decisions like hiring and firing, or whether employers can also be held vicariously liable for harassment by supervisors with the authority to direct and oversee another employee’s daily work. Yet with today’s decision, the majority adopts a restrictive standard that not even the employer supported.
As Justice Ginsburg writes in her dissent, today’s decision “ignores the conditions under which members of the work force labor, and disserves the objective of Title VII to prevent discrimination from infecting the Nation’s workplaces.” She calls on Congress to rectify the ill effects of the opinion: “[t]he ball is once again in Congress’ court to correct the error into which this Court has fallen, and to restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens today.” We agree.
Today’s decision runs contrary to the purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: to root out harassment when supervisors violate the law. It also abandons the Court’s precedent established in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth in 1998, which did not draw arbitrary distinctions between various types of supervisors.
This ruling will make it harder for victims of unlawful and insidious supervisor harassment to hold their employers accountable. This ruling undermines efforts to advance fairness and equal opportunity in the workplace. It is a sad day for women, workers and our country.”
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NOTE: The National Partnership for Women & Families led a group of ten top workers’ and civil rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.