This morning, Jon Hyman over at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, reported on a 6th Circuit decision that suggested that an employment discrimination claim could survive even in the absence of a jury finding an “adverse employment action.”
Yesterday, a District Court decision in Connecticut said exactly the opposite. Indeed, the court granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment because, it found, there was no evidence to suggest that the employee was ever subject to an “adverse employment action.”
So what IS an “adverse employment action”? As the Court recounts, it must be “a materially significant disadvantage with respect to the terms of [a plaintiff’s] employment.”
What types of things are we talking about? “A significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”
In the Holland case, the plaintiff alleged that he had been accused of slashing a fellow employee’s tires and that there had been an investigation where he was informed he could be terminated as an outcome. Even though the investigation revealed no involvement by him, the plaintiff alleged that his inability to work with his co-worker hindered his advancement opportunities.
The federal court disagreed. “An employee does not suffer a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment where the employer merely enforces its preexisting disciplinary policies in a reasonable manner.” In other words, merely being called “into a meeting and told of an investigation and its possible consequences” isn’t an adverse employment action.
As for his advancement opportunities, the court also disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions. “Nothing in the record suggests that [plaintiff] has been hindered from advancement… in any way, either because of his race or [his co-worker’s alleged] animus.
The case continues a trend in Connecticut of the courts dismissing cases for lack of an adverse employment action and shows the importance, for employers, of following policies. When done so properly, courts (at least in Connecticut) tend not to challenge that approach.