In order to claim that a transfer or a realignment of duties qualifies as an adverse employment action, employees must show that the transfer or job changes were somehow potentially harmful.
That’s especially true in the case of job changes that spring from a lateral move across the organization chart, with the same pay and benefits.
It doesn’t matter that the employee believes that the jobs aren’t equivalent. What matters is if a reasonable employee would think there was a substantial difference.
Recent case: Randy, who is black, was one of two district chiefs of fire prevention in San Antonio. He participated in an EEOC investigation.
Over the next few years, new fire chiefs reorganized the department and realigned job duties. This meant changes for Randy’s work, and he didn’t like some of them.
He argued that they amounted to retaliation for participating in the earlier EEOC investigation—and filed a lawsuit. But his employer argued that every time Randy was moved into a different position, he had the same pay, rank and benefits as he had before the changes.
The court said that because nothing substantial had changed, Randy hadn’t suffered an adverse employment action. That meant the changes didn’t amount to punishment. His lawsuit was dismissed. (Jenkins v. City of San Antonio Fire Department, No. 14-50483, 5th Cir., 2015)
Final note: The employer did everything right in this case. When it had to make changes, it made sure anyone affected retained the same pay and benefits.