In this case, another exciting victory for NELF, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with NELF that an employer cannot be held vicariously liable for an employee’s harassment of another employee under Title VII unless the harassing employee is capable of firing, demoting, or taking other such tangible employment action against the plaintiff employee.
Agreeing with NELF, then, the Court defined “supervisor” for Title VII vicarious liability purposes as limited to an employee is capable of taking tangible employment action against the plaintiff employee. In this case, none of the harassing employees was capable of taking such tangible action against the plaintiff. Thus, her claim was dismissed. Agreeing with NELF, and resolving a nationwide Circuit split, the Court explained that it had effectively already answered the question of “who is a supervisor under Title VII” in a prior case from 1998, in which the Court had first announced the standards of employer liability for workplace harassment based on the status of the wrongdoer.
As argued in NELF’s brief, the Court stated that vicarious liability is justified only when the harassing employee has been delegated the official duty to make economic decisions for the employer, such as firing or demoting an employee.