Series of slights can add up to adverse action

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Ordinarily, it takes a discharge, demotion or other serious decision to support a ­discrimination law­­suit. Being fired, demoted or not promoted are so-called adverse employment actions. But even a series of minor employment actions can amount to an adverse action under the right circumstances.

Recent case: Michelle began her career with the Mount Airy Casino as a cocktail server. Perhaps because of her exemplary attendance record and spotless disciplinary record, the casino promoted her to beverage shift manager.

Then she injured her knee while working. She had an operation and was off from work for a while. Her doctor limited lifting to no more than 40 pounds; she was to be allowed to sit down as needed; use ice when necessary and park close to the casino entrance. Michelle got the parking spot—but nothing else. In fact, the casino refused to review the doctor’s requested work restrictions and gave her a heavier workload.

Michelle then tripped at work and hurt herself again, requiring more surgery.

When she returned, she claimed her supervisor began calling her names, including “drooling idiot.” She was then transferred to a room in the basement where she folded napkins and polished silver.

Michelle sued, alleging discrimination.

The casino argued that she hadn’t been harmed—that is, it hadn’t subjected her to an adverse employment action since she was neither fired nor officially demoted.

The court concluded that if it considered all the employer’s actions together, Michelle had experienced an adverse employment action. Employees don’t have to lose their jobs, money or benefits before they can sue. Being demeaned and treated poorly is sometimes enough. (Pierce-Schmader v. Mount Airy Casino and Resort, No. 3:13-1141, MD PA, 2013)

Leave a Comment