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Courts split on role of adverse employment actions in discrimination cases


HARTFORD, Conn.—A worker must show that he suffered an adverse employment action to prevail in a discrimination case, a federal judge ruled this week.

However, a federal appeals court made a contrary decision in a comparable case.

According to the Tuesday decision in Hartford, Conn., federal court in Anthony Holland vs. State of Connecticut, Mr. Holland, who is black, had worked at the state Department of Transportation since 1993. After a transfer to a DOT Norwich office in 2006, he began reporting to Kelli McKeon, with whom he did not get along, and he was transferred.

Although Ms. McKeon had not been Mr. Holland's official supervisor since August 2006, she often spoke with him and others about his job performance, often negatively, according to the ruling.

In September 2009, Ms. McKeon reported that her car tires had been slashed and told Norwich police and the state DOT that she believed Mr. Holland was responsible. A subsequent investigation cleared him.

Mr. Holland sued in June 2010, asserting that his advancement opportunities were hindered because a promotion would require him to work directly with Ms. McKeon.

“He has not, however, been denied any jobs for which he has applied, nor has he been disciplined or lost pay or raises due to any of Ms. McKeon's accusations or criticisms,” the judge ruled. An adverse employment action must have taken place to establish violation of Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964, according to the ruling.


“The adverse employment actions that Mr. Holland highlights include Ms. McKeon’s accusations that he had slashed her tires” and the subsequent investigation, among other factors, said the court. “None of these, alone or in combination, constitutes an adverse employment action,” Judge Mark R. Kravitz ruled in granting summary judgment dismissing the case.

In a ruling in a separate case, Clifford Litton vs. Talawanda School District, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld an award to an African-American custodian who accused the school district of racial discrimination and retaliation in connection with his demotion and transfer to another school.

The jury found Mr. Litton had not suffered an adverse employment action, but it did agree that race had been a motivating factor behind the district’s actions and awarded him $50,000 in compensatory damages.

In a 2-1 ruling Tuesday, a 6th Circuit panel upheld the award.

“Talawanda confined its argument on appeal to whether the district court erred by failing to defer to the jury’s determination of the adverse employment action question,” the majority rules. “It did not otherwise challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s finding on the ultimate question of discrimination. Having rejected Talawanda’s argument, we see no need to address the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict.”