Every June a few US supreme court cases get a reputation for being blockbusters, and this year has been no different. We're still awaiting decisions on cases concerning gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act. But the blockbusters can obscure smaller cases with profound effects. On Monday, the court quietly delivered a destructive, toxic decision on workplace harassment that is as significant as anything else this year.
Vance v Ball State University, which concerned the interpretation of a section of the Civil Rights Act, shouldn't have even reached America's highest court – but it did, and the court's right wing grabbed ahold and used it to further gut workplace protections.
The petitioner was Maetta Vance, the only African-American woman working in the catering department of Ball State University in Indiana. Her supervisor, a white woman, appears to have made her work life a living hell. The supervisor assigned her to perform menial tasks, such as slicing vegetables, even though Vance had worked at the caterer for years and frequently prepared formal dinners for the university.
According to Vance, she faced not only frequent racial harassment, including references to the Ku Klux Klan, but sometimes physical threats as well. On one occasion, at least, the supervisor allegedly slapped her.