Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court raised the bar for employees seeking to prove workplace discrimination. The justices debated regarding the definition of “supervisor” for purposes of Title VII liability in Vance v. Ball State University, and the burden of proof in Title VII retaliation claims in University of Texas Southern Medical Center v. Nassar.
In Vance, the majority held that an employee is a supervisor when the employer has empowered that worker “to take tangible employment actions against the victim”, such as hiring, firing, reassignment, failure to promote or some other action causing the worker’s employment status to change significantly. The justices rejected the definition advocated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for the past 14 years, in which supervisor was defined to include someone who exercises meaningful direction over the work of an employee.
In University of Texas, the majority required employees to prove that the unlawful retaliation would have not taken place in the absence of the employer’s alleged wrongful action- “but for” causation. The “but for” standard is a higher standard of proof than the one advocated by the EEOC.