Thanks to the Supreme Court: Narrower Definition of "Supervisor" Provides Opportunities for Employers
by Terri Eyden on
The New Definition of Supervisor
Fortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision significantly erased a good amount of this confusion by adopting a more straightforward and narrower definition of supervisor than that advanced by the EEOC. The Supreme Court held that a supervisor is one who has the power to take "tangible employment actions" against the victim. Tangible employment actions include:
- The power to hire.
- The power to fire.
- The power to promote or not promote.
- The power to reassign with significantly different responsibilities.
- The power to significantly change an employee's benefits.
In a nutshell, only if the person in question has the power to take tangible employment actions against the victim will that person be considered a supervisor for Title VII purposes.
Benefits of the New Definition
This new definition promises to provide far greater clarity in harassment cases. Employers should now be able to point to whether the alleged harasser could (or could not) hire, fire, promote, etc., and determine early in the case whether the negligence standard under coworker harassment applies or whether the more stringent and difficult-to-defend standard of supervisor harassment is applicable.
This should provide for a more streamlined process and may help employers limit broad discovery requests and other costly tactics of plaintiffs' attorneys. While the decision by no means represents a perfect defense, there are, however, certain opportunities that employers should capitalize on now in order to take advantage of the ruling.