For a worker to have a claim for employment discrimination, he must be able to show that his employer’s discrimination caused him to suffer a materially adverse action which must be more disruptive than mere inconveniences or an alteration in job responsibilities. This point was illustrated in the case of Angel David Morales-Vallellanes v. John E. Potter, United States Post Master General decided by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on May 11, 2010. While that case was an appeal from the Puerto Rico Federal trial court, the First Circuit Court of Appeals is also the federal appellate court for New Hampshire and Massachusetts so its legal precedent is, likewise, binding on New Hampshire and Massachusetts employers and workers.
Morales-Vallellanes (hereinafter “Morales”) began his employment with the United Postal Service in 1988 as a distribution clerk. In 1995, he bid for and obtained a position of distribution and window clerk. In this capacity, Morales typically performed back-office distribution duties, which included business reply, express mail, and postage due functions, and was trained for and was able to perform window duties.
Morales had three claims of which he was allowed to go to trial upon. The first is that Morales alleges that the office’s coffee and lunch break policy was not enforced equally and in a non-discriminatory manner in that female workers were often permitted to take longer breaks than the policy provided. As a result of his complaint, his supervisor required all employees to clock in and out each time they took a break thereby uniformly enforcing the policy. However, Morales stated that the supervisor’s announcement of that new enforcement in front of all the workers made it clear that Morales caused the change. The second complaint was that female workers were awarded his duties and responsibilities when he was temporarily given the window clerk duty rather than the distribution duties. The third complaint by Morales was that when he was seeking an alternative job position that had the desired Saturday and Sunday off, whereas he had Sunday and Monday off, he claimed that they retaliated by changing that desired posted position to a Thursday and Sunday off so that he, along with all others who were interested in that position, would no longer have the opportunity to bid for a position that had a Saturday and Sunday off. The Court found that all of Morales’ claims were insufficient to establish a materially adverse action that could result in monetary damages against the Postal Service under Title VII. As to the coffee and lunch break policy enforcement, the Court noted that Morales was not treated differently than other workers in the application of the policy as a result of his complaint. While prior to that enforcement, Morales had previously received a letter of warning for taking an extended coffee break where female workers had not been given such warnings, that letter of warning was removed from his file five days later. The Court found that if an employer writes a warning and thereafter removes the warning upon determining that it was not justified under the circumstances, that employer should not be liable for an employment discrimination claim.
Secondly, as to Morales having to perform window duties, those duties were part of his job description. It was a minor disruption in the task Morales preferred to perform. Lastly, as to the change in the job posting requirements of making the days off for that posted job being from the desired Saturdays and Sundays to Thursday and Sundays, this change of the days off associated with the new posting does not affect Morales any more than it affected any other eligible bidders. If he got the post, he would be subject to having Thursdays and Sundays off like any other eligible successful bidder. If he did not get the post, he would still have his Sundays and Mondays off.
In summary, the Court has made it clear that to create a monetary damage claim, you must show a materially adverse action was taken against the worker.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].