A federal district court in New York analyzed what constitutes an adverse action in an employment context.
The case involved a longstanding employee who was placed in a different role but was denied training opportunities that were offered to other employees. The plaintiff struggled in her new role and eventually commenced a lawsuit asserting many claims, including race discrimination.
To establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, a plaintiff must prove: (1) she was within the protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she was subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
The third prong of an adverse action was at issue in this case. Specifically, the prong requires a plaintiff to show that she was subject to a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. Courts have found a wide variety of employer actions that fit within this category, including a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, and significantly diminished material responsibilities.
Some courts have also held that the denial of training could constitute an adverse employment action. The court in this case ruled that adverse actions were established by the plaintiff because the individual was denied opportunities to gain valuable experience which resulted in a loss of career advancement opportunities.
There is not an exhaustive list of examples of adverse employment actions. Employers are advised to give careful consideration to which benefits and opportunities they offer employees to make sure there is no actual or perceived discrimination.
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