Court Cites and Applies the Doctrine of “Constructive Involuntary Transfer” in Teachers’ Race Discrimination Case Against the New York City Department of Education

In United States v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Educ., No. 16-cv-4291, 2017 WL 435940 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2017), an employment (race) discrimination case asserted by New York City teachers, the court recommended that defendants’ motion to dismiss be granted and denied in part.

The plaintiff-teachers alleged that the principal of Pan American International High School (PAIHS), Minerva Zanca, discriminated against African-American teachers at the school.

One plaintiff, Ms. James, asserted a “constructive discharge” claim. Ms. James transferred from one school to another, but was not discharged from the Dept. of Education entirely. The court dismissed her constructive discharge claim, but gave her an opportunity to assert a claim of “constructive involuntary transfer.”

Judge Francis wrote:

Applying the constructive discharge doctrine to voluntary transfers is rooted in the principle that an involuntary transfer constitutes an adverse employment action if the plaintiff show[s] that the transfer created a materially significant disadvantage with respect to the terms and conditions of employment. Just as a voluntary resignation becomes actionable as a constructive discharge when an employer creates working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign, a voluntary transfer to a materially inferior position becomes actionable as a constructive involuntary transfer 5 when an employer create[s] conditions so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person in her shoes would have been compelled to request and accept the transfer. Accordingly, Ms. James [an African American teacher/plaintiff] may bring a constructive involuntary transfer claim under Title VII and the human rights laws if (1) she was discriminated against to the point that working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person in her shoes would feel compelled to transfer; and (2) her transfer created a materially significant disadvantage in the terms and conditions of her employment.

Applying this standard, the court held that plaintiff James’ transfer (from PAIHS to another school, Manhattan Lab) “was more than a mere inconvenience or change in responsibilities” in that it “put an expiration date on her position with the DOE where none existed before and left her with a possibly disadvantageous designation when that position ended.”

Such “allegations could constitute ‘materially significant disadvantage’ in the terms and conditions of employment.” Therefore, the court held that her “her constructive discharge claim should be dismissed without prejudice to replead a claim of constructive involuntary transfer.”