Students in Penn State's Civil Rights Appellate Clinic are awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Vance v. Ball State University, which could have a widespread impact on how employment discrimination cases are handled throughout the country. At issue in the case is whether the person who allegedly harassed Vance qualifies as a "supervisor" under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Representing the National Employment Lawyers Association and American Association of Retired Persons, the clinic filed an amicus brief arguing that the Supreme Court should adopt as its rule of law the guidance set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on how to define who is a supervisor for Title VII purposes. After Maetta Vance, the only African-American worker in the Ball State catering service, was repeatedly harassed and threatened at her job by white co-workers, she sued Ball State for permitting a hostile work environment to exist. Vance lost at the District Court, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, both finding that Vance’s accusations were not made against a supervisor, for purposes of Title VII liability. Over the objections of the Solicitor General’s Office, the Supreme Court granted certiorari. The court heard oral arguments on Nov. 27 and is expected to issue a decision in early 2013.
Founded and directed by Michael Foreman, senior lecturer in law, the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in the noncriminal civil rights cases before the state appellate courts, federal courts of appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court.