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Supreme Court puts foot down on supervisor definition

It seems like the U.S. Supreme Court has had its hands full this year with everything from criminal law to immigration law.  But it's a recent decision for employment law that has a lot of people here in Indiana and across the nation frowning this month.  The court's sharply divided decision revolved around supervisors and how this managerial title played into discrimination and wrongful termination cases--a topic some of our readers may remember us writing about several months ago.

The court heard two separate cases in which the employees felt that they had been the victims of discrimination and retaliation after complaining about harassment in the workplace.  But while some advocates point out that these cases demonstrated clear violations of employment law, the Supreme Court surprisingly disagreed, pointing to their interpretation of the definition of a supervisor.

According to five of the justices, an employee is considered a supervisor, for the purpose of vicarious liability, if he or she is empowered by the employer to take employment actions against a victim. Meaning, if the employee has the ability to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline, then that person is considered to be in a managerial position. But as Justice Ginsburg explained in her dissent of the court, this ruling only makes it easier for employers to evade responsibility in discrimination and harassment cases.

A large group of organizations across the nation have already agreed with this statement, pointing out that employees who are placed in a position of authority, despite not having the ability to fire or demote, may still abuse their power in a discriminatory fashion. The general sentiment from a lot of people now is that the Supreme Court has simply made it easier for people to get away with discrimination, leaving little remedy for victims in the future.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Supreme Court, In Vance Decision, Rules That A Supervisor Must Be Able To Hire And Fire," Jesse J. Holland, June 24, 2013

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