A food service worker at Ball State University who claims that the college bears responsibility for racial discrimination by coworkers will have her case heard this month by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Maetta Vance claims she was the only African-American working in her department on the Muncie campus when some co-workers used racial epithets toward her and boasted of ties to the Ku Klux Klan, among other allegations. Her appeal alleges a hostile work environment and retaliation after she filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006, and subsequently was issued a right-to-sue letter.
Justices in June granted certiorari in Maetta Vance v. Ball State University, 08-3568. The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed a district court ruling in favor of Ball State. The 7th Circuit held that Vance “has not established a basis for employer liability on the hostile work environment claim or put forth sufficient facts to support her retaliation claim.”
The question before the court is whether the supervisor liability rule applies to harassment by people whom the employer authorizes to direct or oversee the victim’s daily work. Decisions from the 2nd, 4th and 9th Circuits have upheld that interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The 1st, 7th and 8th Circuits, meanwhile, have held that such claims are limited to those who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline” the victim.
Oral argument is set for Tuesday, Nov. 26.