Personal Liability for Managers involved in Harassment, Discrimination, and Hostile Work Environment Claims

Under Title VII, an employer is defined as a person who has at least 15 employees for at least 20 weeks of the year, or any agent of such a person.[1] A manager or employee cannot be held personally liable under Title VII, even if his actions form the basis of retaliation, discrimination, or a hostile work environment in most states. In some states, such as California, managers can be held personally liable. Within the scope of his/her employment, this means the penalty determined through the court judgment can be paid out only through the assets of the business, not through the plaintiff’s personal assets. That being said, it is likely that other non-employment-based claims, such as intentional torts, will be simultaneously brought against a manager for which he or she could be personally liable. Although any employee can commit a covered act of discrimination, current law provides that employers, and not individual employees, can be held liable under Title VII for discriminating against an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.[2] Further, managers may have to foot the bill to pay the lawyer to establish that they cannot be held liable.

This separation of business and personal assets in settlements comes from the Fifth Circuit in Harvey v. Blake. Their ruling defined supervisors as those delegated with “traditional employer rights, such as hiring and firing,”[3] and the court held that any recovery against an immediate supervisor was limited to the supervisor’s official capacity.[4][5] In this case, Fernando Harvey, the appellee, was an Inspector for the City of Houston Public Service Department.[6] He was terminated following a complaint of sexual harassment he made against Throne Blake, his supervisor, to Jane Carter, the director of the Public Service Department.[7] Harvey then filed a charge alleging sex discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC.[8] After receiving a right-to-sue letter, he sued on the grounds of violations of Title VII and his rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments. He named Blake and Carter as defendants in both their personal and official capacities.[9] Blake, the appellant, did not contest that she was an agent of her employer under Title VII and was thus considered an employer under the meaning of Title VII.[10] The court ruled that immediate supervisors are agents of an employer when they are delegated an employer’s traditional rights. The court found that because Blake’s “liability under Title VII [was] premised upon her role as an agent,” any recovery was limited against her official capacity and not her individual capacity.[11]

 Cite this article as:

Heck, E. (2017). What bad things happen if you don’t instigate retaliation, discrimination, or a hostile work environment? Retrieved from http://www.lynchsc.com/insighs/personal-liability-managers-involved-harassment-discrimination-and-hostile-work-environment-claims



[1] 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e (West).

[2] 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2 (West).

[3] Harvey v. Blake, 913 F.2d 226, 227-228 (5th Cir. 1990).

[4] Id. at 227.

[5] Lopez v. Kempthorne, 684 F. Supp. 2d 827, 850 (S.D. Tex. 2010), quoting Hamilton v. Rodgers, 791 F.2d 439, 422-43 (5th Cir. 1986).

[6] Harvey 913 F.2d at 227.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 227-228.


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