Vance Vs. Ball State

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Hostile work environments

..If not investigated and abated by the employer, can lead to litigation against the employer. This is especially true when the employer acts in a negligent fashion when it comes to investigating harassment claims and disciplining employees that are found to violate the civil rights of other employees or the harassment policy put in place by their employer. While an employer is required to investigate and adequately discipline employees for harassment claims, a gray area may emerge if there is not enough evidence to corroborate the complaint. Employers can be open to legal action if the allegations are not adequately investigated, in what the EEOC calls a "fully resourced" investigation, or if the claim is lodged against a supervisor. Under Title VII it is stated that supervisors are representatives of the company, and thusly, an employer can be sued for harassment claims. Vance vs. Ball State is one such case.

Vance vs. Ball State

A district court case that attempted to hold the employer, Ball State University, responsible for the actions of a single employee for creating a hostile work environment. According to the complaint, Vance was employed as a member of the wait staff. She was the only African-American member of the staff and filed a complaint when a caterer used a racial slur when referencing Vance and other African-American students at the University. From there, a hostile work environment was created, and Vance complained of racially-based harassment on several occasions. The University investigated but did not find sufficient evidence to discipline the employee. The employee was given a written warning for the racial slur that was used.

Vance argued that the University was responsible for the actions of the caterer, as the caterer was a supervisor. Under Title VII the employee, as a supervisor, represents the employer in all capacities, and thus, harassment waged by a supervisory employee can be considered the actions of the employer. Vance lost the case, with a district judge noting that the caterer was not a direct supervisor, as the caterer had no authority over Vance’s work schedule or employment. A Court of Appeal hearing upheld the verdict.

While the judgment ultimately favored Ball State, the case brings up an interesting point regarding harassment litigation and an employer’s duty to protect employees from hostile work environments. It also must be noted that those in supervisory roles are considered representative of the company, and thus, must act in accordance, at all times, with the anti-bullying and harassment policies set forth by the company. The Vance vs. Ball State case favored the employer only because the plaintiff was unable to prove the extent of the bullying and was also unable to determine that the employee was in a supervisory role over the plaintiff at the time of her employment. 

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Vance Vs. Ball State. Available: https://www.lynchlf.com/blog/vance-vs-ball-state/

Twitter: @LynchServiceCo


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