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Beware schedule changes that lower pay! They could trigger discrimination lawsuits

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When an employee’s workload is reduced and her pay declines because she’s working fewer hours, she may be able to sue. The pay reduction qualifies as an adverse action, which can trigger litigation.

Recent case: Continuing education instructor Karen Maddox-Jones, who is black, taught various brief computer courses at a college. When a new supervisor arrived, she found herself assigned to fewer classes, resulting in lower pay. She complained. The following semester, she was offered no classes.

Maddox-Jones sued, alleging that race bias was the motivation for cutting her class schedule.

The college argued that simply being assigned to fewer or even no classes was not an adverse action.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said the reduction, if accompanied by lower earnings, could become the foundation for a discrimination lawsuit. (Maddox-Jones v. Board of Regents, No. 11-10799, 11th Cir., 2011)

Final note: The college ended up winning the case anyway. It showed the court that race wasn’t the reason Maddox-Jones lost out on classes. How? By demonstrating that the new supervisor had redesigned the curriculum and hired additional instructors in order to avoid relying too heavily on one or two instructors. Plus, black instructors taught most of the courses at the college.

The court reasoned that while personality conflicts and miscommunication may have played a part in Maddox-Jones receiving no classes one semester, that’s not the same as discrimination.

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