In last year’s Burlington Northern decision, the U.S. Supreme Court substantially lowered the legal bar for plaintiffs claiming retaliation under Title VII. In order for the alleged retaliatory actions to be materially adverse, they only have to constitute steps that would deter an ordinary person from complaining to the EEOC. Since Burlington Northern, a number of lower federal courts have begun applying its principles to a variety of retaliation claims. A new decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals indicates that federal courts may still impose a requirement that the plaintiff demonstrate serious harm. The suit was filed by an attorney working for the Department of Justice. She claimed that after she accused her supervisor of bias based on race, she was denied mentoring and training, and was moved to a different office.
The Eighth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had not demonstrated a materially adverse impact, and that her claims did not constitute retaliation under Title VII. While the court recognized that in theory, denial of training and mentoring could rise to the level of retaliation, in this case, the plaintiff could not demonstrate that she was left in a position where she could not do her job. The transfer was not retaliation because it was routine, and because all employees experience some level of disruption in their jobs associated with a transfer. This case gives some hope to employers increasingly subjected to retaliation claims for what appear to be minor workplace annoyances.