Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, along with 12 other Senators, introduced the Fair Employment Protection Act, which would provide American workers the chance to thrive in a workplace free of harassment. This legislation addresses the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Vance v. Ball State University, which significantly weakened the ability of workplace harassment victims to seek legal recourse. The bill also restores workplace protections weakened by the Vance decision to ensure that Americans harassed on the job by supervisors and those with authority to direct people’s day-to-day work are treated fairly and receive the justice they deserve.
“Harassment and discrimination of any kind are unacceptable in the workplace,” said Senator Casey, Chair of the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. “I’m proud to support this legislation that will ensure a safe and fair workplace for all. Workers should be judged on the quality of the job they do, nothing more, nothing less.”
Workplace harassment on the basis of sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, age, and genetic information is currently prohibited under federal employment nondiscrimination law. Under the law, employers have a heightened legal obligation to protect against harassment by those with authority over other employees and as a result, employees enjoy real protections and employers are provided with compelling incentives to prevent and resolve this kind of harassment.
However, on June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Vance v. Ball State University weakening these critical protections against harassment. The Court held that the heightened obligations on employers to prevent and remedy harassment apply only when the harasser is a supervisor with the power to hire, fire, or take other tangible employment actions against the victim employee. When harassment is committed by someone who has the power to control a workers’ daily work life, but not the power to hire or fire, a slim Court majority said that the employer has no heightened legal obligations.
The Fair Employment Protection Act addresses the Vance decision and clarifies when employers should be held directly responsible for unlawful harassment. The legislation would include not just supervisors who can hire and fire, but also those whom the employer has put in charge of an employee’s daily work activities, thus able to reassign an employee whom they are harassing.
The Fair Employment Protection Act has earned a strong support in both houses of Congress. Senate supporters include: Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).