In a ruling that will strike fear into the hearts of managers everywhere, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that managers can be held individually liable for discrimination under Title VII. Yes, that means if you’re a manager, you can be sued personally and potentially be on the hook – personally – for damages in a discrimination lawsuit brought by one of your angry subordinates.
But wait! The 6th Circuit’s decision in Mengelkamp v. Lake Metropolitan Housing Authority is actually an outlier. None of the other U.S. Courts of Appeals (D.C. and 1st through 11th) agree – in fact, they all have specifically held that there is no individual liability for supervisors or managers under Title VII.
In my opinion, the 6th Circuit’s decision is on pretty weak ground. The 6th Circuit relies on a 20-year old case, the 1993 10th Circuit case, Sauers v. Salt Lake County, in support of its finding of individual liability. The 10th Circuit, however, subsequently held in the 1996 case of Haynes v. Williams that there is no individual liability under Title VII. In so doing, it interpreted its own prior case of Sauers to stand for the “no individual liability” proposition. So the 6th Circuit’s interpretation of Sauers is completely at odds with the interpretation of the very court that decided Sauers.
At some point, the 6th Circuit may figure it out and join the rest of the Circuits on this issue. In the meantime, managers in the 6th Circuit (which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) should continue to cower in fear, while managers everywhere else can relax – at least with regard to being sued individually under Title VII.
(Did I mention, however, that many courts have found that managers can be held individually liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act?…)