You employ Jack and Jill. Jill files a lawsuit alleging that Jack was harassing her and you did nothing to stop it. Can you be held liable for Jack’s conduct? The answer: it depends.
It depends on whether or not Jack supervised Jill. If Jack was Jill’s supervisor, you may be held liable for Jack’s conduct. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is our federal anti-discrimination law, employers may be found liable for the conduct of supervisors who harass subordinate employees. If, however, Jack was Jill’s co-worker, you may be held liable only if you were negligent in discovering or remedying the harassment.
Problematically, courts across the country interpret what makes an employee a supervisor differently. Therefore, determining who exactly qualifies as a supervisor can be complicated. Some courts have a narrow, employer-friendly understanding that Jack is a supervisor if he has the power to ‘hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline’ Jill. Other courts have a broader and more employee-friendly understanding that Jack is a supervisor if you have given him authority to ‘direct and oversee’ Jill’s daily work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also favors this broader definition of supervisor. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide which courts have it right.
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