Minor annoyance doesn’t warrant lawsuit

Some employees seem to believe they are entitled to a more perfect workplace than their employer can reasonably deliver. Those workers think everyday slights or unpleasant interactions are grounds for a lawsuit. Too bad for them!

Few courts want to mediate petty disputes. Judges have more important matters to attend to. Just ask the judge who issued a caustic ruling in this recent case.

Recent case: Cynthia had a litany of complaints about her employer, the city of Lynwood. Over the years, she filed a series of internal complaints alleging various instances of mistreatment.

She would later claim all those complaints amounted to whistle-blowing—and that in the period immediately before she filed her lawsuit, she experienced harassment and other acts that amounted to retaliation for filing those earlier complaints.

Cynthia said, for example, that she was temporarily assigned to a location that made it more difficult to take bathroom breaks. She complained that at one point the city-owned car she drove for work was replaced by one that lacked functional air conditioning. She complained about a manager commenting that she had gained weight.

Finally, she claimed that, once she was transferred back to her preferred location, it took management several days to give her her own bathroom key. Thus, Cynthia had to ask someone else if she could borrow a key every time she needed to use the bathroom.

The court dismissed Cynthia’s harassment and retaliation claims, reasoning that “workplaces are rarely idyllic retreats, and the mere fact that an employee is displeased” isn’t an adverse action. It refused to allow litigation by every “irritable, chip-on-the-shoulder” employee who doesn’t like something at work. (Foreman v. City of Lynwood, Court of Appeal of California, 2018)