Transfer Denial Can Amount To ‘Adverse Employment Action’ For Title VII Purposes

Many civil rights laws require that an employee show an “adverse employment action” to gain the protections of the law. One issue that arises with some regularity is whether the denial of a transfer request qualifies as an “adverse employment action.”

A recent case involved Kyll Lavalais, the only black officer with the Village of Melrose Park, Illinois Police Department. In February 2011, Lavalais was promoted to sergeant and placed on the midnight shift. Over a year later, he requested a change of assignment from the midnight shift, expressing an interest in any supervisory assignment other than the midnight shift. When the Police Chief denied his request, Lavalais sued, alleging employment discrimination based on his race and in retaliation for filing an EEOC charge.

The question for the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was whether the denial of the transfer request rose to a materially adverse employment action such that it was covered by Title VII. The Court found that it could: “The amended complaint alleges that Lavalais’s assignment to the midnight shift for an indefinite period of time stripped him of his authority as a sergeant, significantly diminished his job responsibilities, and caused him to be ‘virtually powerless’ as a sergeant. It also alleges that Lavalais is seldom permitted to perform sergeant duties, including instructing officers on what actions they should take or not take, and that his employer does not want a black person giving orders to lower ranking officers. And it is alleged that Lavalais’s duties are so severely restricted, it is as if he is not a sergeant. Although the complaint does not provide a lot of factual detail, given the uncomplicated nature of Lavalais’s race discrimination claim, the allegations are sufficient to plead that the denial of a transfer from the midnight shift as well as Lavalais’s treatment on that shift are materially adverse employment actions.”

Lavalais v. Village of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629 (7th Cir. 2013).