Loss of certain job duties constituted adverse employment action says U.S. 5th Circuit

Thompson v. City of Waco No. 13-50718 (5th Cir. September 3, 2014)

This is a racial discrimination employment case where the Fifth Circuit reversed a dismissal by the trial court and remanded.

Thompson is an African American detective in the Waco Police Department. The Department suspended Thompson and two white detectives based on allegations that they had falsified time sheets. After reinstating all of them the Department imposed written restrictions on Thompson but not the other two. The restrictions include the inability to search for or log evidence without a supervisor, the inability to work undercover, the inability to be an affiant in a criminal case, and several others. Thompson asserted the restrictions constituted a demotion since they were integral parts of the detective position. He brought a race discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. §1981 and under Title VII.  The trial court granted the City’s Motion to Dismiss and Thompson appealed.

The court first noted an adverse employment action, which is required for a discrimination claim, only qualifies if it is an ultimate employment decision.  However, that includes demotions.  When an employee has job duties reassigned or loss to such a “significant and material” extent, it can rise to the level of an adverse employment action. Based only on the pleadings, the 5th Circuit held Thompson sufficiently alleged enough of a restriction in his job duties that amounted to stripping him of his detective position. While labeled a detective, he can no longer “detect” without supervision (that is an actual reference out of the case, I did not make that up). As a result, the order of dismissal is reversed.

The dissent believes the loss of duties in this case did not rise to the level of an “ultimate” employment action.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justices SMITH, CLEMENT, and HIGGINSON.  Opinion by Justice Higginson. Dissent by Justice Smith. The attorney listed for Thompson is Royce John Cullar, Jr..  The attorney listed for the City is Charles D. Olson.