Race Discrimination Claims Sufficiently Alleged; Forced Transfer May Constitute an “Adverse Employment Action”

In Anderson v. US Polymers-Accurez, LLC, Case No. 4:22-cv-1022-MTS, 2022 WL 17496062 (E.D.Mo. Dec. 8, 2022), the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. This case is instructive as to how courts assess the pleading sufficiency of such claims.

From the decision:

Defendant first argues the Complaint contains no factual allegations that involve an adverse employment action, as is required for race discrimination and retaliation claims. Jackman v. Fifth Jud. Dist. Dep’t of Corr. Servs., 728 F.3d 800, 804 (8th Cir. 2013) (discussing the element of “adverse employment action” on claims for race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII). Upon review of the Complaint, the Court does not agree, especially as Plaintiff alleged his employment was terminated and that he missed wages due to Defendant’s forced sick leave for COVID-19. Wagner v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 761, 766 (8th Cir. 2015) (termination is an adverse employment action); Jackman, 728 F.3d at 805 (forced leave, paid or unpaid, may constitute an adverse employment action); Donnelly v. St. John’s Mercy Med. Ctr., 635 F. Supp. 2d 970, 994 (E.D. Mo. 2009) (loss in pay constitutes an adverse employment action).

Defendant also argues specific factual allegations do not, as a matter of law, amount to adverse employment actions. But Defendant misunderstands the Court’s role at this stage in litigation. The “question for” the Court “to address at this preliminary stage is not whether” Plaintiff “might at some later stage be able to prove” his claims—“the question is whether he has adequately asserted facts (as contrasted with naked legal conclusions) to support his claims.” Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1129 (8th Cir. 2012).
This is why a “plaintiff need not plead facts establishing a prima facie2 case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas in order to defeat a motion to dismiss.”3 Hager v. Arkansas Dep’t of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1014 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 510–11 (2002)). Instead, the Court must assess whether the Complaint shows Plaintiff may be “entitled to relief” and whether the Complaint gives Defendant “fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Hager, 735 F.3d at 1014. While Defendant is free to argue in a motion for summary judgment, for example, that Plaintiff’s forced transfer to a different shift was a “minor change in working conditions with no reduction in pay or benefits,” see Jones v. Fitzgerald, 285 F.3d 705, 713 (8th Cir. 2002), such a determination by the Court on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion is inappropriate. Overall, the Court finds Plaintiff plausibly pleaded that his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment may have been negatively affected. Jamerison v. Anthem Ins. Companies, Inc., 4:20-cv-1640-MTS, 2022 WL 950861, at *5 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 30, 2022) (explaining an adverse employment action is shown when “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment were negatively affected”).

The court also rejected defendant’s argument that plaintiff failed to plead disparate treatment, noting that plaintiff’s complaint “alleged several facts that white employees were treated differently.”

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