Must be able to hire and fire to be considered a “supervisor”, says U.S. Supreme Court
Resolving long-standing confusion over how to determine who is a supervisor under Title VII, the Court adopted the more stringent, pro-employer standard that people must have authority to take adverse employment actions (e.g., hiring, firing, demotions, etc.) to be considered supervisors. The alternative standard, followed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (and various courts), was that supervisors only needed to be able to significantly influence co-workers’ employment. Whether someone is considered a supervisor is particularly important for harassment cases brought under Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law, as different rules apply to harassment committed by supervisors, as opposed to just co-workers. Employers must have actually been negligent in allowing co-worker harassment to be liable for it, whereas they are automatically liable for supervisor harassment, barring an affirmative defense. The Court issued its ruling in Vance v. Ball State University, in which a cafeteria employee claimed she had been harassed by a co-worker who “glared at” and “intimidated” her. Although Vance is a Supreme Court ruling, it should not impact most harassment cases in California, which are generally brought under the state’s anti-discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). FEHA specifically defines supervisors in the less-stringent way advocated by the EEOC.