Employment Discrimination Law: Two U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Clarify Standards of Proof in Certain Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP - June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court yesterday issued two decisions concerning Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) that help clarify standards that had been debated among the lower courts. In Vance v. Ball State University, No. 11-556, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), the Court endorsed a more precise definition of the meaning of “supervisor” for purposes of imputing liability to employers, limiting the definition to persons with “authority to take tangible employment actions.” The Court rejected a more vague definition urged by the plaintiff. In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, No. 12-484, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), the Court held that plaintiffs bringing retaliation claims under Title VII must prove that the unlawful workplace discrimination they complain of was a “but-for,” determinative cause of the alleged retaliatory employment decision, rather than merely a motivating factor in the decision.