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Deciding who's the boss in employment discrimination cases

Most of our regular Colorado readers probably know that when there are problems in the workplace, many parties may be involved. If the issue is one of employment discrimination, a lawsuit can be filed to rectify the situation and to hold the employer accountable. However, in some cases of discrimination, it can be hard to pin down which party is responsible.

If the discriminatory behavior is coming from a co-worker of equal stature and responsibility, the employer may not be at fault. It is when the discrimination occurs between a supervisor and a subordinate that the employing organization itself can be held accountable. But there are gray areas, and now the Supreme Court of the United States has become involved in a case to decide who can be considered a supervisor for employment discrimination lawsuit purposes.

The case before the Supreme Court originated from a workplace dispute between two workers at a university. The employees, one white and one black, had a history of problems with each other. The black female employee brought the lawsuit, claiming that the other employee made her work environment hostile. The problem in the case, however, is that the white employee was not her direct supervisor, even though she occasionally instructed the black employee on tasks to be completed.

It will likely be some time before a ruling from the court is made. However, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court decides the case because the decision could affect employment discrimination cases throughout the country, including in Colorado.

Source: CNN, "U.S. Supreme Court examines role of supervisor in workplace suits," Bill Mears, Nov. 26, 2012

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