Ark. SC holds supervisors liable

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 23, 2010


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) - The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last week that a supervisor can be held personally liable for alleged acts of retaliation prohibited under Arkansas Code.

The Court, in its opinion filed Nov. 11, answered the certified question of law from Judge Susan Webber Wright of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The question arises from an employment dispute filed by Rhonda Calaway against Practice Management Services, Inc., or PMS, and Dr. Richard Johns.

Calaway said Johns served as her primary care physician and hired her to work as a nurse for PMS. Johns also served as her supervisor during her employment at PMS.

Calaway alleges she suffered a "hostile working environment" at PMS based on sexual harassment by Johns, that she reported Johns' behavior to an office manager, and that Johns terminated her employment immediately after he learned that she had complained about his conduct.

She further alleges that, after her termination, Johns filed a complaint with the Arkansas Nursing Board, falsely claiming that she had submitted unauthorized prescriptions to pharmacies, and he cancelled all remaining refills on medications that he had prescribed for Calaway, without notice or explanation.

On Jan. 27, 2009, Calaway filed a lawsuit in federal district court against PMS and Johns, asserting claims for hostile environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and supplemental state-law claims for retaliation against PMS and Johns under the anti-retaliation provision of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, or ACRA.

Johns asserted that Calaway's claims against him individually under Title VII and ACRA must be dismissed because a supervisor cannot be held personally liable under either statute.

Calaway has acknowledged that Johns is not subject to individual liability under Title VII; however, she maintains that a supervisor sued in his individual capacity for retaliation prohibited under Arkansas Code is subject to personal liability under ACRA.

At issue is the language of the law.

In her brief submitted to the Court, Calaway contends that the law unambiguously imposes individual liability for retaliation because the statute prohibits retaliation by any "person."

However, Johns responds that, in the employment context, ACRA does not permit a claim for retaliation against an individual supervisor. He contends that only employers are subject to liability for employment-related retaliation.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah, who authored the opinion, wrote that the Court holds "that the anti-retaliation provision of the ACRA prohibits discrimination by a human being or an entity that is recognized by a law as having the rights and duties of a human being."

Therefore, an individual supervisor can be held liable for alleged acts of retaliation, the Court concluded.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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