Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued opinions in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar and Vance v. Ball State University. Both decisions are employer wins.
University of Texas addressed the causation standard a plaintiff must meet to prevail on a Title VII retaliation claim. In that case the Fifth Circuit had held that plaintiff was entitled to prevail as he established at trial that retaliation as a motivating factor in an adverse employment action. The Supreme Court rejected that standard, instead holding that plaintiff must show that retaliation was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action.
In Vance the court limited the class of employees considered supervisors for the purpose of imposing strict liability on an employer for coworker harassment. Vance held that to be a supervisor the harasser must have the authority to take tangible employment actions against the victim. The court went on to identify hiring, firing, failure to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or significant changes in benefits as the type of employment actions considered “tangible” for the purpose of this definition.
The Ninth Circuit has adopted a less rigorous causation standard for retaliation cases than called for under University of Texas. That will now change. From a quick check of Ninth Circuit cases the impact of Vance was unclear.