What is an “adverse action”? In the workplace some may think that it is only when someone is fired. However, much more falls under the “adverse action” umbrella. What about denying an employee a training opportunity? A federal district court in New York recently analyzed this very issue. The case involved a longstanding employee that was placed into a different role but denied training opportunities that were offered to other employees. The plaintiff struggled in her new role and eventually commenced a lawsuit asserting many claims, including race discrimination.
To establish a race discrimination claim, a plaintiff must prove that she was within the protected class; she was qualified for the position; she was subject to an adverse employment action; and the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
The third prong was at issue in this case. Specifically, it requires a plaintiff to show that she was subject to a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. Courts have found a wide variety of employer actions that fit within this category, including a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, and significantly diminished material responsibilities.
Some courts have also held that the denial of training could constitute an adverse employment action. The court in this case ruled that adverse actions were established by the plaintiff because the individual was denied opportunities to gain valuable experience and resulted in a loss of career advance opportunities.
There is not an exhaustive list of examples of adverse employment actions. Employers are well advised to give careful consideration to what benefits and opportunities it offers employees to make sure there is no actual or perceived discrimination of the same.