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Transfer with same pay and benefits may still be an adverse employment action

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Employees who are transferred to another position with fewer or less important responsibilities may use the transfer as a basis for an employment discrimination lawsuit.

That’s true even if the transfer doesn’t come with less pay or fewer benefits.

Recent case: Lisa Coffey was an editorial writer for a newspaper and got into a disagreement with her editors on the nature of homosexuality. Coffey describes herself as a traditional Christian who views homosexuality as a sin. When one of her opinion pieces relating to gay issues was rejected, she complained about religious discrimination.

Then she was transferred to a copy editing position and quit.

She then sued, claiming the transfer amounted to an adverse employment action because copy editing is less prestigious than writing editorials. She said the paper was punishing her for holding traditional Christian views.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Coffey—in part. It said a transfer to a less prestigious position, even with the same pay and benefits, could be the basis for a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit.

Fortunately for the newspaper, the court still dismissed the case. The paper was able to show it had an independent and legitimate reason for the transfer. It seems that Coffey frequently worked unauthorized overtime, sometimes using up the bulk of the overtime budget, even though she had been warned numerous times to get approval first. The court tossed out Coffey’s case. (Patterson, et al., v. Indiana Newspapers, No. 08-2050, 7th Cir., 2009)

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