Criticism of Work Etc. Was Not “Adverse Employment Action”; Race and National Origin Discrimination Case Dismissed

A plaintiff asserting discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must establish, among other things, that they suffered an “adverse employment action.” That term, like many in the law, has a specialized meaning.

In Boza-Meade v. Rochester Hous. Auth., No. 6:14-CV-6356 EAW, 2016 WL 1157643 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2016), the court summarized the law relating to an “adverse employment action.”

It explained:

For purposes of a claim for discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff may suffer an adverse employment action if she endures a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. To qualify as materially adverse, the action must be more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities. Examples of materially adverse employment actions include termination of employment, a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, significantly diminished material responsibilities, or other indices unique to a particular situation.

There are no bright-line rules as to what constitutes an adverse employment action, and Title VII does not define adverse employment action solely in terms of job termination or reduced wages and benefits. As a result, courts must pore over each case to determine whether the challenged employment action reaches the level of adverse.

For example, simply being assigned undesirable work duties … [is] insufficient to establish an adverse employment action, since [it does] not have a material impact on the terms and conditions of plaintiff[‘]s employment. On the other hand, [a]n internal transfer can constitute an adverse employment action if accompanied by a negative change in the terms and conditions of employment, … or if it results in a change in responsibilities so significant as to constitute a setback to the plaintiff’s career.

As a further example, [c]riticism of an employee in the course of evaluating and correcting her work is not, in itself, a materially adverse employment action. A thin-skinned worker’s reaction to criticism by a supervisor will not support a claim of … discrimination unless it is outside the bounds of appropriate supervision. Likewise, the threat of disciplinary action, without more, does not constitute an adverse employment action. … Further, without more, unprofessional or boorish behavior does not amount to an adverse employment action. (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.)

The court concluded that, in this case, “[p]laintiff’s allegations relating to criticism of her work, comments made by her coworkers, requests to help with other employees’ work on occasion, not having enough work, and generalized allegations that she was asked to complete ‘new tasks,’ do not rise to the level of an adverse employment action,” and therefore dismissed her Title VII race and national origin discrimination claims.

It also dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, finding that her “allegations reflect general dissatisfaction with the work environment, consisting mainly of teasing and off-hand comments.” In addition, plaintiff did not allege that any of the alleged harassers were “supervisors with the power to effect a significant change in her employment status” but rather that they were co-workers, and her “complaint is devoid of any allegations relating to [defendant]’s knowledge of harassing acts taken against Plaintiff or whether the [defendant] should have known of these acts.”

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