McNamee Hosea News & Press


New Definition of Supervisor May Impact Sexual Harassment Claims

An employment agreement often clarifies the type of relationship that exists between an employee and employer. If that arrangement is at will, either side generally may terminate the employment, with or without cause.

Yet even at will employees are entitled to the protections of federal and state employment laws. For example, an adverse employment action motivated by retaliation or sex discrimination might subject a supervisor or boss -- acting with authority delegated by the employer -- to potential liability in the form of an employment discrimination lawsuit.

However, employment agreements may not always specific the decision-making hierarchy of an employer. In the case of large corporations or state or municipal agencies, there is often a multi-layered chain of command. In the event an employee in this type of employment structure believes that he or she is being harassed, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may potentially make it harder to find justice.

Specifically, the Supreme Court recently determined that employer liability for alleged sexual harassment committed by supervisors or other employees requires an examination of that alleged wrongdoer’s actual authority. The supervisor purportedly acting on the employer’s behalf must have actually had the power to effect a material change in the alleged victim’s employment status, such as hiring or firing, withholding promotions, or changing other types of key benefits.

An Annapolis, Maryland employment law attorney, viewing this decision with an eye towards preventing employment disputes, might advise employers to start including some reference to the hierarchal authority structure in their employment agreements. This could be as simple as mentioning the position title that the employee would report to, and briefly listing that supervisor’s authorities.

Source:, “The Supreme Court Ruling on Workplace Harassment That Got Buried - Kay Steiger - The Atlantic,” Kay Steiger, July 16, 2013