SCOTUS rules in favor of Ball State in hostile work environment suit

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In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that a woman failed to prove she was subject to a hostile work environment at Ball State University.

The Supreme Court took the case, Maetta Vance v. Ball State University, et al., 11-556, last June and heard arguments in November. Maetta Vance, an African-American, worked in the school’s dining services department and alleged that co-worker Saundra Davis created a hostile work environment. She filed her lawsuit against Ball State claiming a violation of Title VII.

The District Court granted summary judgment to Ball State, which the 7th Circuit upheld. The federal court held the school wasn’t vicariously liable for Davis’ alleged actions because Davis, who couldn’t take tangible employment actions against Vance, wasn’t a supervisor.

“We hold that an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits,’” the majority decided in a decision delivered by Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

“We reject the nebulous definition of a ‘supervisor’ advocated in the (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) Guidance and substantially adopted by several courts of appeals. Petitioner’s reliance on colloquial uses of the term ‘supervisor’ is misplaced, and her contention that our cases require the EEOC’s abstract definition is simply wrong.”

This case addressed an issue left open by Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 I.S. 742 (1998), and Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), as to who qualifies as a “supervisor” in a case in which an employee asserts a Title VII claim for workplace harassment.

After those cases were decided, the EEOC in 1999 determined a supervisor is an individual authorized to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions, including hiring and firing of an employee, or an individual authorized to direct the employee’s daily work activities.

Because there is no evidence that Ball State empowered Davis to take any tangible employment actions against Vance, the majority affirmed the 7th Circuit.

Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented over the majority’s decision to strike from the EEOC’s guidance as to who qualifies as a supervisor employees who control the day-to-day schedules and assignments of others, limiting it to only those who are empowered to take tangible employee actions.

Ginsburg, writing the dissent, would continue to follow the EEOC’s 1999 guidance and hold the authority to direct an employee’s daily activities establishes supervisory status under Title VII.  

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas concurred with the majority, noting he continues to believe Ellerth and Faragher were wrongly decided, and that Monday’s decision provides the narrowest and most workable rule for when an employer may be held vicariously liable for an employee’s harassment.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.