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Minor's Title VII Claims Fail Under Vance, Agency Analysis

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on August 16, 2013 1:39 PM

Megan McCafferty began working at a McDonald's franchise owned by Preiss Enterprises ("Preiss") at the age of 15, though she stated that she was 16 on her application. About two months into her employment, she went on a two-day bender involving drugs, alcohol and sex with Jacob Peterson, her shift leader/shift manager.

After Megan was found, she was admitted to the hospital for drug dependence and psychiatric evaluation. She did not show up to her scheduled shifts at Preiss, and did not let them know what was happening, so she was treated as having quit her job at Preiss.

Six months later, she filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and she received a right to sue letter. She filed claims against Preiss and Peterson alleging violations of federal and state law. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed.

Vicarious Liability Under Vance

Reiterating the U.S. Supreme Court's recent opinion in Vance v. Ball State University, the Tenth Circuit noted that to be considered a supervisor for purposes of a Title VII claim, an employee must have "the power to take tangible employment actions" such as hiring or firing.

Here, though Peterson was a shift manager, he did not have the power to hire or fire. In fact, on most of the days he worked, there were supervisors on hand who had the ability to hire and fire, and they were not implicated in this case. Because of Vance, McCafferty's Title VII claim based on vicarious liability failed.

Agency Principles and Apparent Authority

McCafferty next argued that Preiss was liable for Peterson's actions under "general agency principles because Peterson 'acted with the apparent authority or was aided in violating the statute by virtue of [his] agency relationship with the employer.'" The court found this argument unpersuasive.

Here, Peterson was not acting within the scope of his employment, the misconduct did not occur on the work premises, and Peterson was not using any Preiss property in the misconduct. For these reasons, McCafferty failed to establish liability under agency principles.

Post-Vance Era

Though Vance has been conclusively decided, cases that were stayed to await the Vance decision are still making their way through the circuits. Though establishing vicarious liability under Title VII under Vance analysis is now limited, liability may still be found using agency principles. In this case, however, the facts did not meet agency standards.

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