Supreme Court Decisions on Employment Discrimination

Jun 13, 2014 by

Last month, the Supreme Court convened to rule on a number of high-profile cases before recessing for the summer. While many people were focused on the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, or the Voting Rights Act, there were two cases decided 5 to 4 that had a significant impact on employment discrimination and received much less press coverage. The website of Melton & Kumler, LLP, fittingly notes that in spite of the progressive attitude shown by the Supreme Court’s reversal of DOMA and Prop 8, employment discrimination is still a serious problem today.

These two cases, Vance v. Ball State University, and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, respectively ruled on the definition of a “supervisor” when looking at racial or sexual harassment cases, and the burden of proof on employees regarding illegal retaliation against employment discrimination complaints.

In the first case, Vance complained of racial harassment by her supervisor. However, the court ruled that Vance’s harasser was a co-worker, rather than a supervisor, and therefore needed more proof from Vance before Ball State University could be found liable for the damages.

In the second case, Nassar, a physician at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, had complained of racial and religious discrimination and now claimed that the medical center had retaliated by giving him a sub-standard job offer. The court ruled that it was not enough for retaliation to have been part of the motivation for the medical center’s undesirable job offer, but rather it needed to be the defining reason for the action.

The court’s rulings, which met passionate dissent from the four more liberal justices, mark a trend toward greater difficulty for employees who have been discriminated against, or punished for complaining about discrimination, to come up with credible cases and receive compensation.

If you believe you have a discrimination case, contact a discrimination lawyer today to discuss your options.

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