LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT

Racial Discrimination/Disparate Treatment • Adverse Employment Action

Barnes v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., PICS Case No. 14-0421 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 26, 2014) Brody, J. (7 pages).

Where an employee did not suffer any disciplinary action or significant change in her employment conditions as a result of disciplinary accusations alleged to have been motivated by the employee’s race, the employee could not establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment. Granted.

Plaintiff Tameka Barnes, an African-American female, was employed as a legal secretary in defendant Nationwide’s trial division office in Conshohocken, PA. Plaintiff later applied for and received a transfer to another branch office, commensurate with a raise.

Plaintiff alleged that the managing attorney of the Conshohocken office, Victor Verbeke, responsible for managing and supervising the entire office, singled out plaintiff for disciplinary complaints to plaintiff’s direct supervisor, based solely on plaintiff’s race. Plaintiff claimed that Verbeke accessed plaintiff’s individual folder on the company f-drive to discover personal documents in violation of company policy, monitored and listened to plaintiff’s phone calls to discover personal usage in violation of company policy, complained about plaintiff’s work errors, and recorded plaintiff’s departure and arrival times from work. Both plaintiff and plaintiff’s direct supervisor believed that Verbeke was deliberately attempting to find evidence against plaintiff as a pretense to fire her, and that plaintiff was singled out because of her race.

Plaintiff filed a disparate treatment action against defendant. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

In granting defendant’s motion, the court noted the elements of a prima facie case for disparate treatment: plaintiff had to be a member of a protected class, had to be qualified for the position sought or attained, had to suffer an adverse employment action, and the action had to occur under circumstances that gave rise to the inference of intentional discrimination. Specifically, defendant argued that plaintiff failed to allege that she suffered an adverse employment action.

The court further noted that an adverse employment action had to be a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, a significant change in benefits, a decrease in earning potential, or significant disruption in working conditions.

The court found that despite Verbeke’s disciplinary accusations, plaintiff was never subject to disciplinary action, nor were the accusations ever mentioned on plaintiff’s performance reviews, which were continuously favorable. And when plaintiff applied for a transfer, she received it along with a raise.

Accordingly, the court held that, although plaintiff genuinely believed she was treated unfairly as a result of her race, that treatment was not actionable because she did not suffer an adverse employment action, and therefore could not make a prima facie case for disparate treatment.