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Discrimination Updates: Two New Supreme Court Decisions Impacting New York City and Brooklyn Employees

On Monday, June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court handed down two major decisions that New York City and Brooklyn employees should take note of with respect to their protections under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

In Vance v. Ball State University, plaintiff Maetta Vance was employed as a server at Ball State University where a coworker continually made offensive remarks about her race.  In addition to suffering racial harassment, Vance also alleged that she suffered retaliation. In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that, for the sake of establishing the employer’s liability for an employee’s unlawful acts against another employee, the offending employee only acts as a “supervisor” under Title VII – and thus capable of subjecting his/her employer to liability by committing discriminatory or retaliatory acts – if he or she has the power to take tangible employment actions against the victim, which Maetta’s coworker did not.

Under Title VII, tangible employment actions include “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”  If harassment leads to tangible employment action by a supervisor capable to taking such action, the employer is strictly liable for the harassment.  If the victim was harassed by a coworker without authority to cause tangible employment action, the company can avail itself of affirmative defenses which may spare it from liability.

In Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, the Supreme Court ruled that workers can sue for third party retaliation under Title VII of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  In this case,  plaintiffs Eric Thompson and Miriam Regalado were engaged and both employed by North American Stainless when Miriam filed a sexual discrimination charge against the company. Shortly after, Eric was fired and brought suit for third party retaliation.

The Court unanimously agreed that Miriam’s actions were protected under Title VII’s antiretaliation provisions and that the provisions include conduct that “may have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” In other words, Miriam could have been dissuaded from filing a sexual harassment discrimination charge if she knew that her fiance would have been fired in return.

If you believe that you have been retaliated against because someone you associate yourself with has complained of discrimination, or if you have been harassed by a coworker or supervisor, contact an attorney with expertise in antidiscrimination law.

Christopher Davis is an experienced employment litigator specializing in class actions, overtime wage recovery, discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and Wall Street bonus disputes. Before entering private practice, Mr. Davis served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office where he prosecuted violent crimes as a member of the Sex Crimes Unit.

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