(CN) – The Supreme Court said it will decide whether Ball State University should face a lawsuit from a black employee who allegedly endured workplace banter about Buckwheat and the Ku Klux Klan.
Ball State, a university in Muncie, Ind., hired Maetta Vance to work in its dining services department in 1989.
Vance, who is black, told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006 that co-workers had been harassing her with racial epithets, references to the Ku Klux Klan and veiled threats of physical harm.
Vance says co-worker Saundra Davis hit her on the back of the head without provocation, threatened her in an elevator in 2005, and supposedly spoke about “Sambo” and “Buckwheat” in a racially derogatory way.
Another employee, Connie McVicker, allegedly boasted about her family’s Ku Klux Klan ties and called Vance a “nigger” and “porch monkey.”
Davis and McVicker meanwhile filed their own complaints against Vance, and school officials responded with warnings and counseling.
Vance then filed a federal discrimination claims against the state-run school, which she said had reassigned her to menial tasks such as cutting vegetables, washing fruit and refilling condiment trays.
A federal judge granted the school summary judgment, and the 7th Circuit affirmed in June 2011.
The Chicago-based federal appeals court said Vance had not “established a basis for employer liability on the hostile work environment claim or put forth sufficient facts to support her retaliation claim.”
“While it is unfortunate that Ball State’s remedial measures did not persuade Davis or McVicker to treat Vance with respect, and we have nothing but condemnation for the type of conduct Vance has alleged, we find that Ball State satisfied its obligation under Title VII by promptly investigating each of Vance’s complaints and taking disciplinary action when appropriate,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for a three-member panel.
Since Vance rose in the dining services department’s ranks over the years, the court said she did not have a case for retaliation.
“A reasonable person would not be dissuaded from complaining about race discrimination by witnessing the treatment Vance received: a promotion to a full-time position with accompanying benefits, a raise in pay, and – taking all of Vance’s allegations as true – a change in work assignments that included basic salad preparation,” Wood wrote.
The Supreme Court did not issue any comment Monday in granting Vance’s petition for certiorari, as is its custom.