The Lawletter Vol 38 No 8
It appears to be well settled—in fact, there appears to be uniform consensus in the circuits—that Title VII can be applied to impose liability only on "employers," not on individuals, supervisory or otherwise, who are not themselves employers. What appears to remain unsettled, however, is whether Title VII claims may be brought against individual supervisory employees "in their official capacities" when the employer is a governmental entity, as is generally possible under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In general, suing a public official or employee in his or her "official" capacity is tantamount to suing the governmental entity itself.
The court addressed this exact question in a very recent case. Stallone v. Camden County Tech. Schs. Bd. of Educ., Civ. No. 12-7356 (RBK/JS), 2013 WL 5178728 (D.N.J. Sept. 13, 2013) (not for publication). The court started with the language of Title VII, which imposes on employers, as defined, and on any agent of an employer the prohibition against discrimination. The court noted that it is settled that Title VII does not subject individual supervisory employees to personal liability but that the issue of whether Title VII permits claims against such employees in their official capacities remains unsettled. Not only are the circuits split on the issue, but the courts within the Third Circuit are also split.
The court noted that the Third Circuit has stated, in dicta and in the context of qualified immunity, that the doctrine of qualified immunity is inapplicable under Title VII—even though there was no Title VII claim before it—since public officials may be held liable only in their official capacities. After reviewing cases that had involved Title VII claims, the Stallone court found the reasoning of those cases holding that official capacity claims against individuals are not permitted was the more persuasive.
The court explained that Title VII provides for the liability of employers, not supervisors. It further explained that, therefore, naming a supervisor in his or her official capacity would be redundant, particularly where the employer has already been named as a defendant.
Finally, the court explained that disallowing an official capacity claim in such a circumstance does not in any way prejudice the plaintiff. The question left unanswered is whether a claim brought against a public official in his or her official capacity should be dismissed even when the governmental employer is not named as a defendant. Clearly, the better practice would appear to be to name only the governmental employer as a defendant.