R.I. Supreme Court: No Individual Liability for Unlawful Employment Practices

March 30, 2017

By: Kristen M. Whittle and Aaron A. Spacone

In a recent decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court unanimously held that the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”)— Rhode Island’s employment anti-discrimination statute—does not provide for the individual liability of a supervisory employee.

The case, Mancini v. City of Providence, was brought by a police Sergeant, who alleged that he was illegally denied a promotion in the Providence Police Department. In response, the Sergeant filed a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination against both the City of Providence and the Chief of Police in his individual capacity.

The Court acknowledged that FEPA is to be interpreted broadly, and that courts both within Rhode Island and around the country have addressed individual liability of supervisors differently. However, the Court noted the potential for a chilling effect if it were to hold individuals liable under FEPA. For example, holding employees individually liable for employment decisions could leave supervisors more concerned with defending a lawsuit than serving the interests of their employer.

Notably, the decision does not affect the liability of employers for actions taken by their employees under FEPA, and it does not affect supervisory employees’ potential liability under other statutes.

Ultimately, under Mancini, Rhode Island employees may no longer be subject to individual liability under the Fair Employment Practices Act. Supervisory employees, as well as all other employees, may therefore act in the manner that best serves the employer without having to worry about personally defending a FEPA suit.

A full copy of the Court’s opinion is available here.

Kristen M. Whittle and Aaron A. Spacone practice employment law in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. For more information, please contact Kristen, Aaron or your Barton Gilman attorney at 401.273.7171.