WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court voted, 5-4, in two cases Monday to make it harder for employees to challenge what they considered workplace harassment and retaliation for complaints of discrimination, violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
In one, Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion said a worker must be able to hire, fire or demote someone to be considered a "supervisor," even if the person is responsible for another's daily work duties.
The distinction is important because a company is liable for a supervisor's racist or sexist behavior, but it can be more difficult to prove the company's liability if the objectionable behavior comes from a co-worker.
In the other, Justice Anthony Kennedy said victims must prove to juries in a retaliation suit that the actions taken against them came only as a result of the employee's complaint of discrimination and not other reasons.
In other action, the high court:
??? Ruled that generic drug manufacturers could not be sued by patients who claim that drugs they took were defectively designed. The decision is a significant victory for the generic drug industry, but further narrows the recourse for people who are injured by such drugs. The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Alito, overturned the verdict of a New Hampshire jury, which in 2010 awarded $21 million to a woman who developed a debilitating skin disease after taking a generic version of the pain medication sulindac.
??? Agreed to consider reviving an EPA rule that would curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, in a clash over the Obama administration's biggest air-quality effort.
??? Will decide whether President Barack Obama had authority to appoint members of the federal labor board without Senate confirmation, in a constitutional clash that may undercut his regulatory agenda.
??? Refused to shield Pfizer Inc. from some asbestos lawsuits connected to its Quigley Co. subsidiary, a bankrupt unit that stopped most operations in 1992.
??? Rejected an appeal from Hurricane Katrina victims seeking billions of dollars on claims that the Army Corps of Engineers added to the storm's impact by improperly maintaining a shipping channel.