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10.4A.1 Civil Rights—Title VII—"Adverse Employment Action" in Retaliation Cases

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An action is an adverse employment action if a reasonable employee would have found the action materially adverse, which means it might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.


In Burlington No. and Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006), the Supreme Court settled the definition of what is an adverse employment action in the retaliation context. This definition introduces the objective standard of a "reasonable employee" but includes the concept of "materially adverse."

Actions such as firing and demoting are adverse employment actions for purposes of a retaliation claim. In addition, other actions that do not rise to the level of ultimate employment actions, such as a lateral transfer, an unfavorable reference that had no effect on a prospective employer’s hiring decision, and the imposition of a more burdensome work schedule, may also be considered adverse employment actions in this context. Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234, 1242-43 (9th Cir.2000).

Adverse employment actions take many forms. See, e.g., Dahlia v. Rodriguez, 2013 WL 4437594 (9th Cir. Aug. 21, 2013)(en banc) (placement on administrative leave, deprivation of ability to take promotional exam, and loss of pay and opportunities for investigative or other job experience; Manatt v. Bank of America, NA, 339 F.3d 792, 802 (9th Cir.2003) (denial of transfer); Little v. Windermere Relocation, Inc., 301 F.3d 958, 970 (9th Cir.2002) (cut in monthly base salary); Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, Inc., 212 F.3d 493, 500–01, 506 (9th Cir.2000) (low rating on job performance review, decreased job responsibilities, and failure to receive promotions); Hashimoto v. Dalton, 118 F.3d 671, 674–75 (9th Cir.1997) (negative job reference); Miller v. Fairchild Ind., Inc., 885 F.2d 498, 503 (9th Cir.1989) (layoff); Yartzoff v. Thomas, 809 F.2d 1371, 1376 (9th Cir.1987) (transfer of job duties and "undeserved" performance ratings); Ruggles v. Cal. Poly. State Univ., 797 F.2d 782, 785 (9th Cir.1986) (failure to hire); E.E.O.C. v. Crown Zellerbach Corp., 720 F.2d 1008, 1012 (9th Cir.1983)(four-month disciplinary suspension).

Other conduct, however, may not constitute an adverse employment action. See, e.g., Lyons v. England, 307 F.3d 1092, 1118 (9th Cir.2002) ("mediocre" performance evaluation not made available to other potential employers and unaccompanied by any meaningful change in work assignments); Brooks v. City of San Mateo, 229 F.3d 917, 929 (9th Cir.2000) (ostracism by co-workers); McAlindin v. County of San Diego, 192 F.3d 1226, 1238–39 (9th Cir.1999) (refusing to hold a job open), amended by 201 F.3d 1211; Nunez v. City of Los Angeles, 147 F.3d 867, 875 (9th Cir.1998) ("badmouthing" employee); Nidds v. Schindler Elevator Corp., 113 F.3d 912, 919 (9th Cir.1996) (transfer where salary unaffected).

Approved 10/2013