In a recent decision, Spearman v. Donahoe, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey reinforced the notion that a job transfer or shift change that does not materially impact conditions of employment cannot constitute an adverse employment action.
The plaintiff, Leo Spearman, works as a mailhandler for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) in the Bellmawr facility. In June 2009, USPS implemented a mailhandler staff realignment plan, which adjusted, abolished, or reposted 280 mailhandler positions. USPS did not lay off any employees as a result of the realignment, but many employees had their shifts and scheduled days off change. The realignment abolished Spearman’s position. He had the option of accepting a residual assignment or bidding for positions in other tours (which would be provided based strictly on seniority). Under either scenario, however, his shift and scheduled days off would have changed. Spearman successfully bid on another tour. He admitted that the realignment did not affect his seniority, opportunity for overtime or promotion, or materially change his responsibilities in a way that set back his career.
The court granted USPS’s motion to dismiss the case because it concluded that Spearman could not establish a claim under the ADEA. In order to do so, the court explained that Spearman had to identify an adverse employment action that he suffered. An adverse employment action is a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing significant change in benefits.” Spearman provided no evidence that material change in his employment after the realignment other than his shift times and scheduled days off.
This decision is encouraging for employers as it once again confirms that employees cannot sustain discrimination claims on the basis of shift changes or transfers unless the changes or transfers represent a significant change in employment status. Employers should be aware, however, that shift changes or transfers can constitute adverse employment actions if, for example, an employee is transferred to a “dead end” job. It is always prudent to consult with counsel in order to properly determine whether any shift change or transfer may be considered an adverse employment action.