Stripping of Duties Can be Basis for Claim

Three Waco police detectives were accused of falsifying time sheets, two white detectives, and Allen Thompson, an African-American detective.  The department reinstated all three, but imposed written restrictions only on Thompson that included preventing him from searching evidence without supervision, working undercover, or being a lead investigator. Thompson filed suit alleging race discrimination.   The federal district court, however, dismissed the case holding that Thompson failed to show he suffered an “adverse employment action.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal.    The decision reminds us that an “adverse employment action” is more than a termination, demotion, or transfer that results in a loss in pay.    Anti-discrimination laws can also protect workers from employment actions that result in making a job less prestigious or reduces the chance for advancement or promotion.   That does not mean that every worker stripped of job duties has a legal claim.    In fact, most will not.  However, when an employer makes changes to a worker’s responsibilities that are a de facto demotion, then a claim can be pursued if discrimination was involved.   If you believe Thompson’s  claim (as the court must do before the evidence is presented to a jury), then his employer stripped him of the essential duties of a detective, essentially demoting him to an assistant to a detective.   Such a change in job duties could be an “adverse employment action,” and Thompson is therefore permitted to continue with his claims.

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John Wenke is an Employment Law Attorney practicing in the area of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. Mr. Wenke represents employees in Texas and New Mexico, including but not limited to El Paso,  Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Pecos, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Del Rio.