If you were asked to identify who is your "supervisor" at work, I'm sure that many of you would do so quickly, without much hesitation or thought. In fact, you many even name more than one person, as you might work in the type of "Office Space," environment where you have ten or twelve different "bosses."
But, you may be surprised to find that those individuals who you may consider to be your "supervisors" during your day-to-day job, are not your "supervisors" for purposes of workplace discrimination. Or, at least, so says the U.S. Supreme Court.
Today, in a narrow 5-4 decision in the case of Vance v. Ball State (here), a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court held that a "supervisor," as referred to in the context of Title VII (the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination and hostile work environments), is narrowly defined as an individual who is "empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim. . ." In plain English, this means that in Title VII employment cases, a "supervisor" is now limited to only those individuals who have the power or authority to fire, demote or otherwise discipline the employee who complains of discrimination or harassment. This decision eliminates from that group those people who may have the power and authority to control and direct an employee's everyday tasks or assignments at work, but who lack any disciplinary ability.
So, take a minute to think again about the question I asked at the beginning of this article.... Has your list changed at all? I bet it probably did.