Sometimes it seems as though anything an employer does after an employee complains about discrimination can get turned into a retaliation case. It’s not actually that bad.
The fact is, it’s only retaliation if it would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place. Minor workplace changes don’t count.
You can certainly implement ordinary decisions involving your workers (for example, assigning employees to a particular department) without fear of a retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Baldy Princeton, who is black and of Ghanian descent, worked in the tool department at a Lowe’s store. He complained internally that he was being discriminated against.
Shortly after, store managers transferred Princeton to the garden department, but he continued to receive the same pay and benefits.
That’s when Princeton filed an EEOC complaint alleging retaliation for having complained earlier. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter and he filed a federal lawsuit, representing himself.
The court tossed out his case. It reasoned that a transfer to another department was not serious enough to cause a reasonable person to withhold a discrimination complaint in the first place. Citing other examples—like a teacher being transferred from one grade to another—the court said the transfer was insignificant and within the company’s right to manage its workforce. The transfer also didn’t affect pay, promotion opportunities, benefits or even other intangibles like prestige. (Princeton v. Lowe’s Home Centers, No. 09-C-1942, ND IL, 2009)
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