SCOTUS' Terrible Harassment Ruling

[Content Note: Sexual harassment.]

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress: The Scariest Supreme Court Case That You've Probably Never Heard Of.
The law provides very robust protections to employees who are harassed by their supervisors, but it is drastically more difficult for an employee to win a racial or sexual harassment lawsuit if they have only been harassed by coworkers. In the later case the worker must show that their employer has "been negligent either in discovering or remedying the harassment." For this reason, it matters a great deal who qualifies as a "supervisor" for purposes of sexual harassment law. If the word is defined too narrowly, it could encompass employees who have the power to intimidate their victims into keeping their harassment secret.

That's more or less what the lower court did in Vance v. Ball State University... According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a "supervisor" is someone whose authority "primarily consists of the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline an employee." Employees who can assign tasks to other workers, or even those who direct their day to day activity, don't count.

...At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan raised the hypothetical of a secretary who works for a professor, and the professor "subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex." Under the Seventh Circuit's rule, this professor nonetheless does not qualify as a "supervisor" if the secretary can only be fired by a bureaucrat with the job title "Head of Secretarial Services," even if the professor directs every minute of the secretary's day.
There was an awful lot at stake: "If the justices side with the Chamber in this case, it could drastically impede workers' ability to stand up to harassment. A woman's boss could grope her, make sexist jokes, and assign her to demeaning tasks, and her employer could nonetheless be immune from suit if the only person who can technically fire her is some unknown official in the company's HR department."

And so came the ruling: "The opinion is out, and it is as bad as it can possibly be. The Seventh Circuit's rule is affirmed in a 5-4 decision by Justice Alito."

Ha ha for a moment I almost forgot that the Supreme Court works for corporations, not for the people. Now I remember, and it all makes terrible sense.

[H/T to Eastsidekate and Misty.]

UPDATE: And, via Garrett Epps at The Atlantic, a report of Justice Samuel Alito behaving like a petulant child while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissents from the bench on both the above case and the affirmative action case (edit: the gif is from a State of the Union, where he was pulling the same shit):

gif of Alito making his face and mouthing the word 'no'
At this point, Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head "no." He looked for all the world like Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, signaling to the homies his contempt for Ray Walston as the bothersome history teacher, Mr. Hand.

The offense against decorum is greater when the object of scorn is a woman 17 years his senior, one who is acknowledged even by most of her critics to have spent a distinguished career selflessly pursuing justice in the precise area of her dissent--gender equality in society in general and the workplace in particular. Her words are as worthy of respectful attention as were his.

...A Justice of the Court lives his life in a swaddle of deference most of us cannot imagine. It is not too much to ask that, in return for this power and privilege, he or she should act like an adult.

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