Under the federal discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, courts have reached different conclusions as to whether a particular employee was a “supervisor.”

The distinction is important.

In a workplace harassment suit under Title VII, where an employee is harassed by another employee, the liability of the employer often depends on the status of the employee doing the harassing.  If the perpetrator is a co-worker of the victim, then the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling workplace conditions.  However, if the harassing employee is a “supervisor,” and the harassment leads to a “tangible employment action,” the employer is held strictly liable.

Just recently, the United States Supreme Court held that for purposes of Title VII liability, an employee is a “supervisor” if he or she “is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.”   Such actions include hiring, firing, demoting, transfer or discipline.

Previously, some cases defined a supervisor as a person with “the ability to exercise significant direction over another’s daily work.”