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Worker can’t sue for job switch if you have legitimate reasons

by on
in Human Resources

Barbara Policastro was a Northwest Airlines' sales rep whose territory covered Cincinnati, where she lived. She also had to spend about five days a month servicing cities in northern Kentucky about 100 miles away.

After Northwest joined forces with another airline, her job was restructured to focus only on the Kentucky market. Her salary, benefits and responsibilities didn't change, but she was expected to spend at least four days a week in Louisville and Lexington. Because she didn't want to move from Cincinnati, her commute was substantial.

She resigned and sued, claiming sex and age bias because she was over 40 and a man took over her Cincinnati sales area.

A district court said Policastro had no case and an appeals court agreed. Reason: A reassignment without change in salary, title or work hours isn't an adverse employment action unless it creates an intolerable condition for the worker. Just because she desired one position didn't matter, the legal yardstick is whether the transfer would be "objectively intolerable" to a reasonable person, the court said.

Because the company gave Policastro the option of spending the night if she found the daily drive inconvenient, the court said it couldn't find her situation so intolerable that she would be forced to quit. (Policastro v. Northwest Airlines Inc., No. 00-4484, 6th Cir., 2002)

Advice: You have the right to modify the terms and conditions of an employee's position. Just make sure there's a legitimate business reason for it and explain those reasons to the employee. If an employee can show enough evidence that a job change may have been made for discriminatory reasons, you'll be at greater risk for liability.

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