Employment Legislation Seeks to Restore Critical Workplace Protections

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D. Wis., and Tom Harkin, D. Iowa., and Reps. George Miller, D. Calif., and Rosa DeLauro, D. Conn., introduced legislation in March – the Fair Employment Protection Act (S. 2133/H.R. 4227) – in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Vance v. Ball State University,which narrowed protections for employees who face harassment in the workplace.

In Vance, the Court created a distinction in terms of who is liable under Title VII between harassers who have the power to hire and fire their subordinates, and harassers who direct daily work activities, like scheduling, assigning work, and telling employees they can take breaks. FEPA would provide a solution to this artificial distinction.

“The Fair Employment Protection Act would ensure strong protections against harassment based on sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, age or genetic information by making clear that, in hostile work environment harassment cases, an employer is vicariously liable for harassment by both those with the power to make decision about hiring, firing, promotions, reassignment, pay, or a significant change in benefits, and those with authority to direct daily work activities, but who do not have the power to hire or fire,” according to a letter sent today by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, urging co-sponsorship of the bill.

Particularly in industries employing low-wage workers, lower-level supervisors are often the only supervisor with whom an employee has regular contact. FEPA is critical because, especially in a tough economy, it is unfair to place these additional hurdles to workplace success in the way of hardworking Americans.

“The Vance decision has made standing up for one’s rights an even more daunting task, and put one of the few legal remedies available to employees further out of reach,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, at a press event introducing the bill. “The Fair Employment Protection Act would correct this injustice and protect all workers from being victimized on the job.”