Title VII Job Transfers

Let’s say you’re tired of your current position and want to try something new with the same employer. You apply for a job transfer, and you are refused. Then you discover that other people were able to make the move more easily. If these other people are of a different race or sex or other protected classification, can you file a discrimination claim under Title VII? In the past, in some circuits, you could not do this unless you could show that the denial caused you “objectively tangible harm”. However, in Chambers v. District of Columbiathe DC Circuit recently decided that the additional requirement of such harm was not supported by the wording of the statute.

Ms Chambers asked for different rooms

The plaintiff, Mary Chambers, worked in the DC Attorney General’s Office for more than 20 years. She sought numerous transfers to different units in the office but never got the job. She ended up filing a sex discrimination complaint with the EEOC, claiming that similarly situated male employees had obtained transfers like the ones she was seeking.

The district court applied a 1999 DC Circuit case, Brown v. Brody, in which the court ruled that refusing or forcibly accepting a transfer of employment is actionable under Title VII only if the employee can prove that he suffered “objective harm tangible “. By that standard, the district court said that even though the denial of his transfers was motivated by gender discrimination, Chambers had failed to prove the required harm. The court entered summary judgment for the defendant.

Call so interesting it’s been heard twice

Undeterred, Chambers appealed to the DC Circuit. Upon its initial review, the court found that they were bound by Brown and upheld the summary judgment. However, based on strong concurring opinions, the court decided to hear the case en banc (meaning that all the judges in that circuit consider the case together instead of just a three-judge panel).

The issue before the panel en banc was the fact that nowhere in Title VII is there a requirement that a plaintiff prove that an employer’s discriminatory act caused “objectively tangible harm.” The court considered the ordinary meaning of the law and concluded that to deny an employee’s transfer request while granting a similar request to a similarly situated colleague is to treat one employee less well than the other. If this was done based on a legally protected classification (such as gender), then “analysis is complete”. Title VII does not require demonstration of “objectively tangible harm”. The court chose not to accept the argument that allowing this type of litigation would result in heavily contested de minimus employment decisions. Instead, he relied on the fact that Title VII does not include such a standard of proof.

Where do we go from here?

The court held that decisions that change an employee’s position may constitute an adverse employment action and therefore covered by Title VII. Employers should be aware that there are many stages in an employee’s journey and at each stage the employer must ensure that decisions are made without regard to government protected categories. federal.

© 2022 Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 158

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