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Supreme Court rulings limit rights of victims of discrimination

Back in December in this Greenbelt Employment Law Blog, we discussed a very important case that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review. The case centered on the question of who can be labeled as a supervisor in discrimination and harassment lawsuits. The question is a very important one because whether or not the harasser was a supervisor may determine if an employer is liable for the unlawful actions.

On Monday, in a split-decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a person must have the authority to hire and fire a worker in order to be considered a supervisor. The decision has been called a blow to workers, who could now have a much more difficult time holding their employers accountable for discrimination.

The nation's highest court also answered a question regarding retaliation Monday, again issuing a split-decision that favors employers. The court ruled that victims of retaliation must be able to prove to juries that retaliation was the sole motive for a negative employment action, such as a firing or demotion. It is no longer enough to prove that an employer had a mixed-motive that involved retaliation.

Both decisions were very controversial, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented in both cases, has called for Congress to overturn the decisions.

In her dissent, she said: “Deferring to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, the Supreme Court majority has imposed a heavier burden for victims of workplace harassment and discrimination seeking justice in our courts."

While these rulings do limit the rights of workers here in Maryland, the metro Washington, D.C., area and throughout the country, it remains very important for victims of workplace discrimination to seek legal counsel. In many cases, it is still possible to stand up for your rights, hold your employer accountable, and obtain compensation.

Source: The Washington Post, "Supreme Court makes it harder to sue businesses for discrimination, retaliation," June 24, 2013

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