On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could have an impact on workplaces galore, because it will be deciding whether or not a company is liable for harassment by its employees. The magic word will be “supervisor” and its legal definition will be key. The outcomes of racial, religious or sexual harassment claims hang in the balance:
(Reuters) – Under previous Supreme Court rulings, an employer is automatically responsible if a supervisor harasses a subordinate. The employer is not liable if the harassment is between two equal coworkers, unless it was negligent in allowing the abuse.
Since those rulings, a rift has developed between federal appeals courts over exactly who is a supervisor. On one side, three circuits say supervisors are those with the power to hire, fire, demote, promote or discipline. Three other circuits have adopted a broader standard, one that also includes employees who direct and oversee a colleague’s daily work.
To no one’s surprise, business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have filed briefs supporting the narrow definition of supervisor.