Is that Harassing Employee a Supervisor? Does it Matter?

The First Monday in October makes legal enthusiasts like myself as excited as Charlie Sheen in a liquor store.

Today marks the start of another Supreme Court term and although the public is understandably more interested in high profile disputes,  such as the use of affirmative action in college admissions, there are always issues that will have a direct impact on credit unions and this year is no exception.

The case that most intrigues me asks a question that has been unanswered by the Court for 14 years and impacts the scope of every employer’s potential liability for lawsuits alleging racial or sexual discrimination under federal law: when is an employee a supervisor?  The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think and is sometimes crucial to who wins or loses a discrimination lawsuit.

In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court will hear an appeal  from  Maetta Vance, an African-American employee of the university’s food catering service who alleges she was the victim of racial discrimination by a group of employees including Saundra Davis, who she claims was her supervisor.  Mrs. Vance alleges this group of employees referred to her with racial epithets, physically threatened her and that one of them boasted of having family members that belong to the KKK.

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