In what is considered a victory for employers, SCOTUS has narrowed the scope of the term “supervisors” to encompass only those management-level employees who “are empowered” to take “tangible employment actions” (hire, fire, demote, promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibility’s, or a decision causing a significant change of benefits) against lower-level employees, and not managers who merely oversee or direct employees’ daily activities. This is important as employers may be held strictly, and vicariously, liable for their supervisors’ discriminatory actions towards its employees.
The Court expressly rejected the definition that “supervisor” status is equated with the ability to exercise “significant direction over another’s daily work” which was advocated by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission Guidance, as well as adopted by several circuit courts of appeals. That definition of “supervisor”, the Court explained, would inevitably lead litigants, courts, and perhaps jurors to undertake “nebulous” and “murky” examinations of the so-called “supervisor’s” daily duties, and which could be resolved only on case-by-case bases.
Thus, the Court decision greatly increases an employer’s ability to assert the affirmative defense against discrimination and harassment claims brought under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and makes the term “supervisor” clear enough to resolve the issue of status even before litigation commences.