Office Relocation as an “Adverse Employment Action”

Employment discrimination claims are frequently analyzed pursuant to the well-known McDonnell Douglas[1]McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). burden shifting framework. Under that framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that:

(1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he is competent to perform the job or is performing his duties satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment decision or action; and (4) the decision or action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination based on his membership in the protected class.[[2]Fletcher v. ABM Building Value, 2018 WL 1801310, at *8 (S.D.N.Y., 2018) (emphasis added).]

Here I will discuss whether an office relocation qualifies as an “adverse employment action.” I discussed the “adverse employment action” concept generally here.) The answer to this question is, unsurprisingly, “it depends.”

Many cases appear to indicate that an office relocation, standing alone, does not qualify as an “adverse employment action.” See, e.g., Fletcher v. ABM Building Value, 2018 WL 1801310, at *16 (S.D.N.Y., 2018) (holding that plaintiff’s transfer to a glass-enclosed “bubble” as opposed to a private office did “not mean she suffered an adverse employment action” and observing that “far worse work environments have been held not to be actionable”); Trachtenberg v. Dep’t of Educ. of the City of N.Y., 937 F. Supp. 2d 460, 468 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (“[T]he relocation of [plaintiff] to a windowless, poorly ventilated room does not constitute an adverse employment action.”); Stoddard v. Eastman Kodak Co., 309 Fed.Appx. 475, 478 (2d Cir. 2009) (“inadequate office supplies and space[ ] do not constitute adverse employment actions”); Mikolaenko v. New York University, 2017 WL 4174928, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (holding that moving Plaintiff to “a small closet-like room with no windows” and “poor ventilation” in a “very busy traffic area” was a “mere inconvenience” and not an adverse employment action) (citing cases).

Other courts have reached the opposite conclusion. See, e.g., Scafidi v. Baldwin Union Free Sch. Dist., 295 F. Supp. 2d 235, 239 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) (holding that relocation to an office that “could be accessed only by a long flight of stairs” which aggravated plaintiff’s disability, later reassignment to a storage room, assignment of extra work, and denial of access to clerical staff qualified as an adverse employment action).

1 McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
2 Fletcher v. ABM Building Value, 2018 WL 1801310, at *8 (S.D.N.Y., 2018) (emphasis added).
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