To sue for employment discrimination, employees have to show some sort of adverse action—e.g., discharge, demotion, a pay cut or a transfer to a less desirable or less prestigious position.
Merely being criticized or having a reprimand placed in a personnel folder isn’t enough to support a lawsuit.
Recent case: Deborah Mieczkowski was an assistant superintendent for the York City School District. She is white. The superintendent (her supervisor) and the district’s HR director are black.
The trouble began when the superintendent received notice from the state’s Department of Education that it was holding funds until the school district submitted several annual reports.
Mieczkowski was responsible for the reports, and she was called into a meeting to discuss the matter. There, she was presented a letter outlining which reports were missing and told to complete the reports as soon as possible. At stake was nearly $3 million the school district needed.
Demanding to have an attorney present, Mieczkowski refused to accept the letter. The district instead placed it in her personnel file. At a second meeting, she brought her attorney, but later went home, claiming anxiety and stress. She never returned to work, eventually used up her accumulated leave and retired.
Then she sued, alleging reverse discrimination.
But the court tossed out her lawsuit because the school district did not commit an adverse employment action. All that happened was that a letter critical of her performance ended up in her personnel file. The court said that’s not enough. (Mieczkowski v. York City School District, No. 10-2058, 3rd Cir., 2011)
Final note: Don’t act rashly and do something foolish. For example, the school district was right to schedule a second meeting with Mieczkowski’s attorney present rather than disciplining her on the spot for insubordination.