Bill Would Expand Employer Liability in Harassment Cases

The Maryland Senate passed legislation that would establish a State standard for employer liability in certain workplace harassment cases that is vastly different from the federal standard. The bill, SB 688, expands the federally mandated definition of “supervisor.” As a result, Maryland employers will face increased liability for the conduct of lower-level employees who are not deemed supervisors under federal law. 

The Maryland Chamber opposes the legislation. “Greater liability for Maryland employers under State law will place Maryland at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that apply the federal standard,” said Deriece Pate Bennet, Maryland Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs.

Contact your delegates and members of the Health and Government Operations committee today and urge them to oppose SB 688. This bill would increase employer liability and make Maryland less competitive.


In a 2013 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court limited employer liability in certain Title VII harassment cases. Under Title VII, an employer’s liability depends on whether the alleged harasser is a “co-worker” or a “supervisor.” An employer is vicariously liable for harassment by a supervisor.  Employers are not liable for co-worker to co-worker harassment absent proof that the employer knew or reasonably should have known about the harassment but failed to take action.

Title VII does not define the term “supervisor,” and different definitions had emerged in different circuit courts. A broader definition references the term as someone who “has the ability to direct and oversee the alleged victim’s work,” and a narrower version defines the term as someone ”authorized by the employer to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, and discipline the alleged victim.” In Vance v. Ball State University, the Supreme Court settled the controversy and held that an employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of employer liability under Title VII “only if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.” You can find more information on the court decision from Maryland Chamber member Shawe Rosenthal here.

SB 688 would adopt the broader definition of supervisor as the State standard. Contact your delegates today and urge them to oppose the bill. For more information, contact Deriece Pate Bennett at

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