Transfer Denial Cannot Support Discrimination Claim

For many discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the employee must show that he/she was the subject of an “adverse employment action.” Roughly speaking, an adverse employment action amounts to some quantitative or qualitative change in the terms or conditions of his employment or some sort of real harm.

A federal appeals court recently rejected the discrimination claim of Nora Chaib, a corrections officer for the State of Indiana, finding that the denial of her transfer request did not amount to the requisite adverse action necessary for a Title VII claim. Chaib claimed that during her six-month probationary period, she was the target of discriminatory comments made by her field training officer. After she completed her probation, Chaib requested a transfer to a different facility. The State’s denial of her transfer request became one of the bases for her discrimination lawsuit.

The Court concluded that “Chaib concedes that her duties, salary, and career opportunities were not affected by the failure to transfer her. Instead, she contends that the transfer would have resulted in a significant change in the terms of her employment, notwithstanding her concession, because she would have worked with inmates imprisoned for less serious offenses who would have been easier to work with.

“There is insufficient factual support in the record for this contention because there is no evidence that inmates at the requested facility are easier to work with. The only information offered by Chaib concerning that facility is her statement that the inmates housed there have been convicted of less serious offenses, but Chaib points to no evidence in the record from which any further conclusions can be drawn. Although it is plausible to infer that an inmate held at a less secure prison may be more docile, pose less danger, and cause less stress, it is equally plausible to infer that there are fewer institutional restraints on the prisoners and a greater inmate-to-staff ratio which, notwithstanding Chaib’s request to be transferred, invites the inference that working would be more difficult and culminate in an increase of danger and stress.

“Without concrete evidence showing that the terms and conditions of working at CIF are superior, rather than relying on bare conjecture, Chaib has not met her burden. Additionally, just because Chaib subjectively considered a transfer to have been a more ideal fit or personally advantageous does not render its rejection adverse. Not everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action. Otherwise, minor and even trivial employment actions that an employee did not like would form the basis of a discrimination suit.”

Chaib v. State of Indiana, 744 F.3d 974 (7th Cir. 2014).