Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court drafted a broad new legal standard for judging whether a company retaliated against an employee for complaining about discrimination. (Burlington Northern v. White) To rise to the level of illegal retaliation, an employer’s action must be “materially adverse” enough to dissuade a reasonable worker from filing a discrimination charge.
Now, the lower courts are starting to define what that standard means. The news is good for employers. In one new case, the court said that, to be “materially adverse,” an employer’s actions must be more than the trivial annoyances and petty slights that often occur at work.
Recent case: A secretary claimed that, in response to her discrimination suit, her boss took away her parking space and gave her work she considered menial. The 5th Circuit said none of those slights, though perhaps annoying, rose to the level of “materially adverse.” Employees, it concluded, don’t gain immunity from ordinary slights simply because they filed a discrimination complaint. (Peace v. Harvey, No. 06-50402, 5th Cir., 2006)