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United States Supreme Court Raises Bar for Discrimination Claims

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced two decisions, Vance v. Ball State University, and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, which make it more difficult for workers to prove they suffered employment discrimination.

In Vance, the Court narrowed the definition of “supervisor” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, rejecting the definition of “supervisor” advanced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • The EEOC had maintained that a supervisor need only be someone who directs an employee’s daily work tasks or activities. The Court says this is insufficient.
  • Pursuant to Vance, the burden on the plaintiff is higher, since the majority decision ruled that a supervisor is someone authorized to hire, fire, promote, demote or reassign employees to significantly different responsibilities.
  • When a co-worker is accused of harassment, an employer can only be held liable if the plaintiff can prove that the employer was failed to stop the behavior.

In Nassar, the Court ruled that, in Title VII claims of retaliation for reporting discrimination, a plaintiff’s burden of proof is higher than for regular employment discrimination cases.

  • Normally, employers can be held liable if wrongful discrimination is a merely a motivating factor. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, liability is established if a plaintiff can prove that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice.
  • The Court in Nassar decided that the retaliation provisions of Title VII contain no indication that Congress intended to depart from the usual “but for” standard.
  • The Court held that the 1991 provision extends only to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Court reasoned that if Congress had intended to cover discrimination based on retaliation, and thereby subject it to a lower threshold of proof, it would have been expressly placed it in the list.

If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, consult an experienced Georgia employment and labor law attorney who can provide you with the guidance you need.

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