court-logo.jpgThis might be a good day to figure out if your boss really is your boss, especially if that boss is harassing you.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that in order for an employee to prove bias against a supervisor, the supervisor has to be a supervisor in every sense of the word. According to a majority of the justices, that means the individual has to have “the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, trans­fer, or discipline an employee.”

Clearly, that’s a straightforward definition of a supervisor, but alas, the workplace is anything but straightforward.

The employee at the heart of the case the high court ruled on yesterday, Maetta Vance, a catering assistant for Ball State University, thought the individual who was harassing her, Saundra Davis, was indeed her supervisor.

According to the facts in the case, Davis was the Banquet and Catering Division as a Catering Specialist and “she was responsible for supervising and providing leadership for kitchen assistants and substitutes.”

No one seems to be disputing the harassment. The dispute was over whether Davis was Vance’s supervisor. Since the Supreme Court found Davis didn’t meet their definition of a supervisor, Ball State was not liable for her actions under the nation’s bias laws.

This phenomenon of managers who really aren’t managers, isn’t just a aberration.

In recent years, some employers have increased their use of the supervisor designation, in some cases knowingly or unknowingly bypassing discrimination laws, and also wage and hour laws. If you’re a supervisor then you don’t get overtime, right?

Not so fast.

Just last year, Walmart agreed to pay millions in back wages to so-called exempt managers.

This from a Department of Labor release:

The violations affected current and former vision center managers and asset protection coordinators at Wal-Mart Discount Stores, Wal-Mart Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Club warehouses. Wal-Mart failed to compensate these employees with overtime pay, considering them to be exempt from the [Fair Labor Standards Act]’s overtime requirements. The Labor Department’s investigation found that the employees are nonexempt and consequently due overtime pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a week.

The Supreme Court decision yesterday was not unanimous. rginsburg2.jpgIn a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the ruling “is blind to the realities of the workplace.”

She wrote,

“The Court today strikes from the supervisory category employees who control the day-to-day schedules and assignments of others, confining the category to those formally empowered to take tangible employment actions.

“A supervisor’s slings and arrows, however, are not so easily avoided. An employee who confronts her harassing supervisor risks, for example, receiving an undesirable or unsafe work assignment or an unwanted transfer. She may be saddled with an excessive workload or with placement on a shift spanning hours disruptive of her family life. And she may be demoted or fired. Facing such dangers, she may be reluctant to blow the whistle on her superior, whose “power and authority invests his or her harassing conduct with a particular threatening character.”

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