Shift Transfers Not Sufficient for Discrimination but May Be for Retaliation

On April 21, 2014, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed a race discrimination case brought by an African-American employee against his former employer. In Douthit v. TC Heartland LLC, the employee claimed that he had been transferred from his Blender Assistant position on the third shift at TC Heartland’s Indianapolis manufacturing facility to the first shift based on his race.

Prior to addressing Mr. Douthit’s evidence of race discrimination, the court had to answer a fundamental question presented by all discrimination claims – Did the employee suffer an adverse employment action? Mr. Douthit contended that the shift change was an adverse employment action because he had requested to work the third shift so that he could care for his daughter during the day and by changing shifts, he lost out on the ability to do so.

While Mr. Douthit’s transfer from the third shift to the first shift was undoubtedly an employment action, the Court determined it was not an adverse one. The rationale for the Court’s decision was that the only change in circumstances Mr. Douthit suffered via the shift change was a change in the time of day during which he was scheduled to work. He did not lose any hours and his rate of pay and entitlement to benefits were not altered in any way. Thus, from an economic perspective, the transfer did not adversely impact him and the standard for discrimination claims is that an adverse employment action requires some sort of tangible economic harm.

However, the Court went on to acknowledge that the anti-retaliation rule “is ‘broader’ than [the antidiscrimination rule] in the sense that retaliation may take so many forms, while [the antidiscrimination rule] is limited to discrimination with respect to [the worker’s] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” So while a shift transfer without any economic harm was insufficient evidence for Mr. Douthit’s race discrimination claim, the Court left open the possibility that it might be sufficient in claims involving workplace retaliation.