Lodging a justified complaint at work should not result in an undesired reaction from an employer, such as being transferred to another department. In fact, that type of response could be considered retaliation on the part of the employer – which goes against employment law.
Very recently, a Federal appeals court reinstated a professor’s lawsuit alleging that the University of New England retaliated against her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor by transferring her to another department (Carlson v. University of New England, No. 17-1792 (1st Cir., Aug. 10, 2018)).
When Dr. Lara Carlson complained and asked for a new supervisor, she was told by the university that she would have to be removed from her department and be transferred to another department. Dr. Carlson, in order to avoid future harassment, agreed to the transfer. Her salary was not reduced, but the transfer resulted in her forfeiting many teaching assignments and her being removed as advisor to students.
Dr. Carlson filed a claim against the university for retaliation, in part because the university misled her about the effect the transfer would have on her job. Dr. Carlson said she agreed to the move only on the condition that she could keep her classes and continue to do her job, but she found that the transfer actually reduced her teaching and career opportunities.
In July 2017, the district court granted summary judgment for the university, finding that because the transfer was voluntary, it was not an adverse employment action. The district court held that Dr. Carlson had failed to prove that the university’s actions were retaliation for her harassment complaints, and that it was clear her transfer to another department was voluntary.
Dr. Carlson appealed the decision., and in August 2018, the appeals court agreed with Dr. Carlson and found that the district court ignored Dr. Carlson's argument that the dean of her department led her to transfer out of that department by misrepresenting how the move would affect her professional responsibilities. The court noted that a reasonable jury could find that the events described in Dr. Carlson’s complaint would not have happened but for her harassment report.
The attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth are highly experienced with handling job-related retaliation claims, so if you lodged a complaint and were subjected by your employer to unfavorable job transfers or other retaliatory actions, we may be able to help. For more information, contact us at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.