Denied training request wasn't gender discrimination, appeals court says
- Denying a worker’s request to take a software training course wasn't an adverse employment action, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case involving allegations of gender discrimination (Ford v. County of Hudson, No. 17-1805 (3rd Cir. April 5, 2018)).
- Helen Ford, a Hudson County Department of Corrections sergeant, filed suit against the county alleging gender discrimination, among other things. A jury returned a verdict concluding that she had shown one act of gender discrimination — the employer's failure to permit her to attend a Microsoft training class when a male colleague was given permission to attend. The jury awarded her $30,000 for emotional distress, almost $10,000 in economic damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
- On appeal, however, the 3rd Circuit said the training request denial couldn't amount to an adverse employment action. Denial of an opportunity to “become marginally more efficient in the execution of duties does not constitute an adverse employment action, particularly when no evidence in the record suggested that any conditions or privileges of Ford’s employment were affected as a result," the court said, vacating the judgment.
Employers can’t discriminate against workers based on protected factors, but courts continue to hold that a minor, isolated slight isn't necessarily an adverse employment action.
On the other hand, transfers, schedule changes and other similar actions have been found to amount to adverse actions. In the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's guidance on retaliation, the agency notes that a denial of training has been held to be an adverse action, but in the case it references, the employee was excluded from a weekly training lunch that contributed to professional advancement.
Still, as experts predict an increase in gender discrimination claims in the wake of #MeToo, employers may want to consider training for managers to ensure that gender doesn't factor into employment decisions.
- 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals Ford v. County of Hudson
- EEOC EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues