Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson

PETITIONER: Meritor Savings Bank, FSB
RESPONDENT: Vinson
LOCATION: University of Michigan Medical School

DOCKET NO.: 84-1979
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 57 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1986

ADVOCATES:
F. Robert Troll, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Patricia J. Barry - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

After being dismissed from her job at a Meritor Savings Bank, Mechelle Vinson sued Sidney Taylor, the Vice President of the bank. Vinson charged that she had constantly been subjected to sexual harassment by Taylor over her four years at the bank. She argued such harassment created a "hostile working environment" and was covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vinson sought injunctive relief along with compensatory and punitive damages against Taylor and the bank.

Question

Did the Civil Rights Act prohibit the creation of a "hostile environment" or was it limited to tangible economic discrimination in the workplace?

Media for Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1986 in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson

Warren E. Burger:

The Court will hear arguments first this morning in Meritor Savings Bank against Vinson.

Mr. Troll, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

You may elevate that lectern if you wish.

The other direction.

0....

F. Robert Troll, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The primary question in this case is whether a corporate employer is automatically liable under Title VII for a supervisor's sexual advances toward a subordinate even though the employer did not know about the advances and never had a chance to stop them.

The district court, after taking eleven days of evidence, found that the employee had suffered no Title VII discrimination and it rendered judgment against her.

The district court also found that the bank had no notice of the supervisor's alleged discrimination and therefore it could not be liable as a matter of law.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

Let me turn to the specific facts of this proceeding.

Ms. Vinson, plaintiff in this case, went to work as a teller trainee at one of the bank's branch offices in September 1974.

Over the next four years, she was promoted to teller, head teller, and finally to assistant branch manager.

It was undisputed at trial that these promotions were based on merit.

Ms. Vinson's immediate supervisor throughout this period was Sidney L. Taylor.

Mr. Taylor was the branch manager and an assistant vice president.

At trial Ms. Vinson claimed that she and Mr. Taylor began a sexual affair in May 1975, to which she consented out of fear of losing her job.

She claimed that for the next two and one-half years Mr. Taylor repeatedly demanded sex from her and otherwise harassed her physically and verbally.

But she admitted that she never complained to the bank about Mr. Taylor, even though she herself was a supervisory employee and had regular contact with higher bank officers.

Mr. Taylor denied having a sexual relationship with her, and he further denied all of her accusations of harassment.

He offered evidence that just before Ms. Vinson left the bank and filed this lawsuit that they had had a continuing dispute about her failure to carry out his instructions to train a new teller.

The bank showed that it had a written policy expressly prohibiting sex discrimination and had appointed one of its senior officials as its EEO officer to enforce the non-discrimination policy.

It also had a written grievance procedure for resolving employee complaints.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Counsel, Mr. Taylor is not here, is he?

F. Robert Troll, Jr.:

He is not before this Court.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Have you represented him in the past?

F. Robert Troll, Jr.:

No, we have not.

We have represented strictly the bank in all proceedings before the district court and the Court of Appeals.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Is he any longer employed by the bank?

F. Robert Troll, Jr.:

Although I don't think it's part of the record, it is my understanding that he is still employed with the bank and is still at the branch premises where the alleged incidents occurred.