Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supervisors can’t be held individually liable for discrimination. However, the little-noticed Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 does allow individual liability for discrimination claims.
Section 1981, enacted right after the end of the Civil War, prohibits discrimination in contracting—including employment contracts of all kinds.
Recent case: Soliman Youssef claimed he was discriminated against at his job with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. He sued the state and his supervisor. That case was settled.
Then Youssef filed a second EEOC complaint, alleging retaliation and harassment. The EEOC agreed he had a case and said the state owed him almost $400,000 in damages. This time, the state balked and refused to settle.
Youssef sued, alleging national-origin discrimination under Section 1981. He also named his supervisor as an individual defendant. The supervisor protested, claiming that Title VII doesn’t allow personal liability.
But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, pointing out that Youssef wasn’t suing under Title VII, but instead under Section 1981—a section the court said does provide for individual liability. (Youssef v. Department of Health and Senior Services, et al., No. 10-3628, 3rd Cir., 2011)
Final note: This decision means the boss’s personal assets may be at risk. Some employers have insurance to cover supervisor liability in cases like this.