Racial Discrimination in The Workplace: Vance vs. Ball

The rules have now changed in discrimination lawsuits and hostile work environments, as proven in Vance v. Ball State University, the US Supreme Court’s workplace discrimination ruling. In a 5-4 outcome, the US Supreme Court altered the landscape in which employees could sue for discrimination and hostile work environments by narrowly defining what constitutes a ‘supervisor’. The federal court defined a supervisor as one with the ability to hire, fire, demote and discipline in the workplace; specifically, one who is authorized to ‘take tangible employment actions against the victim’.

Accused of Racial Discrimination

In the case of Vance v. Ball State, a racial discrimination case, Maetta Vance accused her supervisor, Sandra Davis, of creating a hostile working environment and claimed racial discrimination. Vance, an African American woman, was the only black employee in the catering department at Ball State University and repeatedly suffered racial harassment by co-workers and workers in superior positions, to include Ku Klux Klan references, physical altercations, and demeaning tasks. Vance’s supervisors investigated the claims, but only provided written and oral reprimands to Vance’s co-workers and the harassment continued.

What is a 'Supervisor'

Under the court’s ruling and definition of ‘supervisor’, Vance’s discrimination case was thrown out, as Vance’s supervisor, Sandra Davis, did not meet the newly defined requirements of ‘supervisor’. Although Davis supervised daily work activities and had the ability to impact employment actions, Davis’ functions did not meet the comprehensive definition set forth by the US Supreme Court, as Davis did not have the authority to fire or demote Vance. In light of this failure to meet the new definition, Ball State University could not be held accountable for the hostile work environment. Vance has appealed this ruling based on the definition of supervisor by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC defines supervisor as any individual in the position of recommending employment actions and assigning or directing daily work activities.

Currently under the decision of the court, workers such as Maetta Vance will have little to no recourse for discrimination and harassment endured in the workplace. Other victims of discrimination and harassment who find themselves in the shoes of Maetta Vance will find proving their case a much heavier burden since the ruling of the US Supreme Court.

Contact Us

If you've been treated unfairly based on a protected characteristic such as race you have the right to sue and seek compensation. Contact a New York Discrimination Lawyer to learn your rights.