A New Jersey District Court recently ruled in favor of an employer who reassigned a long-term African-American employee who did not have the ability to perform a particular managerial job despite the claim that her reassignment was a demotion due to her race.

Schlumberger Technology Corporation is an oilfield services provider. In 1981, the Company hired Brenda Bray, an African-American female, as an hourly employee. Bray received multiple promotions during her tenure with Schlumberger. In March 2007, Bray received another promotion to the Quality Health Safety and Environmental (“QHSE”) and facilities manager position for Schlumberger’s Princeton, New Jersey technology center, but she struggled in this role. In 2008, Bray’s manager provided her with a list of issues items that he thought she needed to address in order to make the facility compliant with Company mandates. However, in May 2008, the Princeton technology center was found non-compliant.

In January 2009, Schlumberger’s manager responsible for the health, safety, security and environmental functions of the Princeton technology center visited the facility and determined that there were twenty items that needed immediate remedial action. He found that “hazardous chemical containers were being stored in unsecure areas, technology assets throughout the facility were not secured, the signage for personal protective equipment was deficient, and [Bray] failed to conduct a security assessment of the site despite ongoing construction at [the Princeton technology center] that resulted in barriers being removed.” Based on this review and her overall poor performance while working at the Princeton facility, Bray’s management removed her from the position and reassigned her to customer quality manager.

In August 2010, Bray filed a 26-count Complaint with the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Bray’s claims included an allegation that Schlumberger intentionally discriminated against her because of her race in violation of Title VII and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination when it reassigned her from a QHSE and facilities manager to customer quality manager.

Bray claimed that the customer quality manager position was tantamount to a demotion. She alleged that employees perceived customer quality manager as a subordinate supervisory position and, therefore, she suffered an adverse employment action. The only argument provided by Bray was “her own, unsubstantiated opinion that the position of customer quality manager is subjectively less desirable and significant than QHSE and facilities manager.” The court found that there was no adverse employment action. Her rate of pay, employment grade, and benefits remained unchanged.

The district court also found that Schlumberger articulated a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for its decision. Plaintiff had numerous non-compliance issues and did not have the leadership abilities for the position. Bray was unable to establish that the Company’s reasons were pretext for discrimination. The court dismissed her race claims.

This case is an important reminder that all employment actions should be based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.