Denial of Overtime Pay Could Constitute Adverse Employment Action

September 5, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a denial of overtime pay could be enough to prove an adverse employment action significant enough to warrant a discrimination suit.

Reversing a federal district court decision, Circuit Judge Michael Kanne wrote that the decision of the Chicago Police Department to deny one of its female officers the opportunity to help with the expected demonstrations at an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting could be enough to prove discrimination.

The Washington, D.C. police department asked in the summer of 2002 for assistance from various other departments, including Chicago, in policing the IMF meeting. At the request for volunteers at her department, Donna Lewis threw her name into the hat. If she was picked by the department, she would get overtime pay for two days, as well as on-the-job training.

There was a stipulation in the memorandum sent by the department that said because of hotel accommodations, a lone female officer will not be sent, since there are two people to a room. Lewis was on the list of qualified attendees, but there was not another qualified female officer interested in going to the event.

When she asked her superior about why her name was taken off the list, he allegedly said that it “would be dangerous and that [she] would thank him for it later.” Lewis claims that her denied request was form of veiled discrimination.

According to the opinion, Lewis claims that she missed out on $1,000 in overtime pay and a potential boost to her resume. She filed a claim of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and then sued in federal district court, which dismissed her claim before trial.

The appeals court said that Lewis presented direct evidence of alleged discrimination though her superior’s statement of why he prevented her from attending the IMF event.The appeals court decided that a question of fact exists as to whether the denial of the opportunity to work overtime was an adverse employment action for purposes of a discrimination claim.

“Although we define adverse employment action broadly, not everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action. For an employment action to be actionable, it must be a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibility, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits,” the appeals court said.  

The court said that the IMF assignment could have offered Lewis valuable experience that might have enabled her to advance in her career, and sent the case back for further proceedings.

For the full opinion in Donna L. Lewis vs. City of Chicago and Terence Williams, No. 06-2302, go   here .

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