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Common-sense court decision: Promotion isn’t adverse employment action

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Retaliation for filing an EEOC or other complaint is anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place. Generally, that means that the employer did something harmful or adverse to the employee’s job, duties or pay and benefits.

But what if the employer does something that most reasonable people would consider favorable? That can’t be the basis for a retaliation claim.

Recent case: Mary is a licensed clinical social worker. When she worked for Niagara County, she devoted about 80% of her time to rape-crisis work; during the remainder, she counseled women.

When Mary didn’t get an expected promotion, she filed an EEOC discrimination charge.

Then the county transferred its rape-crisis center to another agency and moved Mary to a split assignment in which she spent three days in one location and two in another. She was also assigned another em­­ployee to supervise.

Mary sued for retaliation, arguing that being assigned supervisory duties was retaliation.

The court tossed out her claim. It reasoned that most reasonable employees would welcome more responsibility rather than see it as punishment. Because retaliation is measured by both the employee’s subjective response to the alleged retaliation and the hypothetical reasonable employee’s response, Mary’s subjective feeling that she was being punished with management duties wasn’t good enough to keep her lawsuit alive. (Webb v. Niagara County, No. 11-CV-1925, WD NY, 2012)

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