SCOTUS Makes it Basically Impossible to Sue Coworkers for Harassment
5:00 pm, June 24th | by Grace Rasmus
The Supreme Court has gotten a lot of media attention lately with a (somewhat anti-climactic) affirmative action ruling this morning and upcoming rulings on the Voting Rights Act and marriage equality. However, the under-reported Vance v. Ball State University case just slashed support for victims of workplace racial and sexual harassment in a 5-4 vote.
As it stands, the law is pretty comprehensive in cases of supervisors harassing their employees but does not adequately combat peer-to-peer harassment among coworkers. In order to win a suit against a coworker, the worker must show that their employer has “been negligent either in discovering or remedying the harassment.”
In these instances, the definition of a “supervisor” matters a great deal and today’s ruling just made the definition extremely narrow: someone whose authority “primarily consists of the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline an employee.” Employees who can assign work to other coworkers or even direct their day-to-day activities don’t count. Not even a professor who is tormenting his secretary/assistant qualifies under SCOTUS’ appallingly myopic interpretation of the law.
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said that the court made the absolutely wrong decision. “Deferring to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, the Supreme Court majority has imposed heavier burden for victims of workplace harassment and discrimination seeking justice in our courts,” she said. “This decision makes it far easier for employers to evade responsibility for discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
So basically, as long as you don’t have the authority to fire them, you can harass your coworkers all you want without penalty. Wonderful. It’s incredible that a group of highly educated people could fail to see this glaring injustice.