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Vance v. Ball State University

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Vance v. Ball State University
Argued November 26, 2012
Decided June 24, 2013
Full case nameVance v. Ball State University
Docket no.11-556
Citations570 U.S. 421 (more)
133 S. Ct. 2434; 186 L. Ed. 2d 565; 2013 U.S. LEXIS 4703; 81 U.S.L.W. 4553
Case history
PriorUnited States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
An employee is a "supervisor" for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityAlito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
DissentGinsburg, joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
Laws applied
Title VII

Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. 421 (2013), is a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding who is a "supervisor" for the purposes of harassment lawsuits. The Supreme Court upheld the Seventh Circuit's decision in a 5–4 opinion written by Samuel Alito, rejecting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's interpretation of who counts as a supervisor.[1] The case was important because it resolved a dispute between several different circuits.[2][3][4]

The issue presented before the Court was:

Whether, as the Second, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits have held, the Faragher and Ellerth "supervisor" liability rule (i) applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim's daily work, or, as the First, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits have held (ii) is limited to those harassers who have the power to "hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline" their victim.

— Questions presented, Vance v. Ball State University[3]


While working at Ball State University, Maetta Vance contended that Saundra Davis, a catering specialist, had made Vance’s life at work unpleasant through physical acts and racial harassment. Vance sued her employer, the university, for workplace harassment by a supervisor.

To win a lawsuit for harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is necessary to show that the employer is negligent in responding to complaints about harassment. However, to win a lawsuit for harassment by a supervisor, the employer does not have to be negligent because Title VII imputes the supervisor’s acts to the employer. Vance asserted that Davis was a supervisor; Ball State claimed the opposite.

The District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had determined that Davis was not Vance’s supervisor, because Davis did not have the power to direct the terms and conditions of her employment.[5]

Supreme Court decision[edit]

The Court upheld the Seventh Circuit's interpretation in its decision issued on June 24, 2013. It used a narrow interpretation of the term "supervisor", so that a person may only be considered a supervisor if he or she can take tangible action against the employee.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. 421 (2013).
  2. ^ Totenberg, Nina (November 26, 2012). "Supreme Court To Look At Who Is A 'Supervisor' In Harassment Cases". National Public Radio. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "11-556 Vance v. Ball State University, et al. Question Presented:Harassment Cases" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. June 25, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  4. ^ Denniston, Lyle (November 21, 2012). "Argument preview: Who is a supervisor?". ScotusBlog. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  5. ^ Vance v. Ball State Legal Information Institute. Retrieved June 25, 2013.

External links[edit]