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The Supreme Court Tips its Hat to Employers - Or Does It? Vicarious Liability After Vance v. Ball State University

August 10, 2013
Attorney at Law Magazine - Twin Cities Edition
Author: Brooke Anthony and Peter McElligott

The U.S. Supreme Court recently rendered two employer-friendly decisions under Title VII.  

In one, the court held that employers could be held vicariously liable for employee conduct only when that employee was “empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.”  Vance v. Ball State University, 2013 WL 3155228, *3 (June 24, 2013).  The court championed its decision as a veritable “bright line” rule that would simplify complicated Title VII litigation.  Ball State, 2013 WL 3155228 at *7.

Ball State came to the Supreme Court on a workplace harassment claim set against the backdrop of two prior Supreme Court decisions – Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S.775 (1998).  In those decisions, the court held that an employer may only be vicariously liable under Title VII for the conduct of a supervisor. Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 765; Faragher, 524 U.S. at 807.  In both decisions, however, the court stopped short of defining “supervisor.”  Read More