The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against an employee at an Indiana college who claimed she had suffered racial harassment in the workplace.
In a 5-4 vote, the court held that catering assistant Maetta Vance, who is black, could not sue Ball State University over the alleged taunts and threats made by a white colleague who Vance considered to be her supervisor.
The court concluded the colleague could not be considered a supervisor under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In reaching its decision, the court revisited a 1998 ruling that said harassment victims could hold their employers responsible for improper conduct by a supervisor.
That ruling never defined exactly what constituted a supervisor, which was the legal question raised by the Vance case.
Vance had argued that a supervisor was anyone with day-to-day oversight of an employee's activities, while Ball State said a supervisor must have the power to hire, fire, promote, demote, discipline or transfer the employee.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had adopted the latter definition in June 2011, when it ruled for the Muncie, Indiana-based university. The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, affirmed the appeals court ruling.
The federal government officially supported neither party, suggesting that the similar standards proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York might be appropriate.
Several women's and civil rights groups supported Vance's appeal, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and various conservative groups supported Ball State.
The case is Vance v. Ball State University, U.S. Supreme Court. No. 11-556.
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