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Managers Beware: You Can Be Individually Liable For Discriminating Against Employees

Posted by Eric Parzianello on November 17, 2013

Until recently, federal courts have almost uniformly found that managers or supervisors cannot be individually liable under Title VII, which protects employees against discrimination based on grounds such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Under Title VII, liability is typically limited to the employer.  A November 4, 2013, case from the Sixth Circuit (which covers Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio), however, has strayed from that general interpretation of the statute.

In Mengelkamp v. Lake Metropolitan Housing Authority, a female plaintiff who was employed at annual salary of $46,000 sued her employer and manager for sex discrimination.  She alleged and a jury found that her male manager consciously disregarded her rights and engaged in “outrageous” and “flagrant” actions.   The jury awarded the plaintiff compensatory damages of $195,000 against the employer and punitive damages of $105,000 against her manager.  The Court of Appeals upheld both awards.  As to the punitive damages, the Court found that the manager held a supervisory position, had significant control over the plaintiff’s firing, and was the person in charge of employment conditions.  The manager was therefore an “employee” under the statute and could be found individually liable.

Lesson for managers and supervisors:  don’t discriminate . . . . or find a job outside of the Sixth Circuit.



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