employment discrimination

University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar

Eradicating unlawful discrimination and retaliation in the workplace is one of core purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Respondent Dr. Naiel Nassar, a former faculty member of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW), alleges that his employer denied him a job in retaliation for a prior resignation letter alleging race discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, Nassar's resignation letter stated that his supervisor made derogatory comments about his Middle Eastern descent. Petitioner UTSW argues that Nassar needs to prove that retaliation was the sole motivating factor for the negative employment action. In contrast, Nassar argues that he need only show that retaliation was a motivating factor, but not necessarily the only one, for the negative employment action. A holding for UTSW may make it more difficult for victims of retaliation under Title VII to sue their employers, whereas a holding for Nassar may increase the costs borne by employers in defending against potentially meritless litigation.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 258, 268-69 (1989), a plurality of this Court held that the discrimination provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), requires a plaintiff to prove only that discrimination was "a motivating factor" for an adverse employment action. In contrast, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 179-80 (2009), held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), Pub. L. 90-202, 81 Stat. 602, requires proof that age was "the but-for cause" of an adverse employment action, such that a defendant is not liable if it would have taken the same action for other, non-discriminatory reasons. The courts of appeals have since divided 3-2 on whether Gross or Price Waterhouse establishes the general rule for other federal employment statutes, such as Title VII’s retaliation provision, that do not specifically authorize mixed-motive claims.

The question presented is:

Whether Title VII's retaliation provision and similarly worded statutes require a plaintiff to prove but-for causation (i.e., that an employer would not have taken an adverse employment action but for an improper motive), or instead require only proof that the employer had a mixed motive (i.e., that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action).

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Issue

Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act require a plaintiff alleging retaliation to show that retaliation was the only reason for a negative employment action?

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Vance v. Ball State University

Petitioner Maetta Vance contends that Saundra Davis, a catering specialist, had made Vance’s life at work contentious through physical acts and racial harassment.  Vance sued her employer, respondent Ball State University, for workplace harassment by a supervisor. To win a lawsuit for co-worker harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is necessary to show that the employer is negligent in responding to complaints about harassment; however, to win a lawsuit for harassment by a supervisor, the employer does not have to be negligent because Title VII imputes the supervisor’s acts to the employer. Vance asserted that Davis was a supervisor although Ball State claimed Davis was not actually Vance’s supervisor. The District Court and Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that Davis was not Vance’s supervisor because Davis did not have the power to direct the terms and conditions of Vance’s employment. Additionally, both courts found that Ball State had an adequate system in place for reporting and investigating claims of harassment under Title VII and thus the university could not be negligent. If Vance wins, the definition of supervisor under Title VII will expand to include more than just those who can hire, fire, demote, promote, or discipline an employee. If Ball State wins, the definition of supervisor under Title VII may expand; however, it would likely be limited to persons who actually control an employee’s daily activities.

 
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

In Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), the Supreme Court held that under Title VII, an employer is vicariously liable for severe or pervasive workplace harassment by a supervisor of the victim. If the harasser was the victim's co-employee, however, the employer is not liable absent proof of negligence. In the decision below, the Seventh Circuit held that actionable harassment by a person whom the employer deemed a “supervisor” and who had the authority to direct and oversee the victim's daily work could not give rise to vicarious liability because the harasser did not also have the power to take formal employment actions against her. The question presented is:

Whether, as the Second, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits have held, the Faragher and Ellerth “supervisor” liability rule (i) applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim's daily work, or whether, as the First, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits have held, the rule (ii) is limited to those harassers who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” their victims.

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Issue

Whether, for purposes of employer liability for racial harassment in the workplace, an employee must have the power to tangibly affect the employment status of the victim in order to be considered a supervisor.

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