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  • Third Circuit decision benefits employers in suspension with pay claims under Title VII
  • October 28, 2015 | Author: Joshua A. Brand
  • Law Firm: Burns White LLC - West Conshohocken Office
  • Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”  An employee filing suit under Title VII for discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic must prove as part of the prima facie case that an employer subjected the individual to an adverse employment action, defined by the case law as “an action . . . that is serious and tangible enough to alter an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

    In Jones v. Southeastern Pa. Transp., Auth. (SEPTA), the Third Circuit Court considered whether a paid suspension falls within this definition. Michelle Jones, the plaintiff, was discharged from her employment after an investigation by her employer, SEPTA, concluded that she had submitted fraudulent time sheets. While SEPTA conducted its investigation, it placed Jones on paid suspension. This action, among others, was the basis for a discrimination complaint that Jones filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and eventually the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Noting the lack of guidance from the Third Circuit as to whether a paid suspension is an adverse employment action under Title VII, the district court applied the weight of authority from other circuit courts to conclude that it is not. The Third Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s ruling, noting:

    A paid suspension is neither a refusal to hire nor termination, and by design it does not change compensation. Nor does it effect a ‘serious and tangible’ alteration of the ‘terms, conditions, or privileges of employment . . . ’

    In our increasingly litigious workforce, the Jones decision provides valuable insulation to employers from liability under the substantive anti-discrimination provision of Title VII for suspending an employee with pay. An important note on this decision is that the standard for an adverse employment action under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII (which prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who complains of discrimination in the workplace) is different, and Jones does not prevent the possibility of an employer being found liable under that section for the same action.

The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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