Maryland Federal Judge says Transfer of Baltimore Police Officer is Not an Adverse Employment Action

By Loyd Willaford and Sarah Burke

In Williams v. Baltimore County, an African American police officer alleged he was retaliated against after he was transferred to a new department. A Maryland district court disagreed, and found that a transfer without evidence of loss of pay, opportunities, or benefits was not an adverse employment action.

Randy Williams was employed as a Sergeant with the Baltimore County Police Department. Williams complained that his supervising Lieutenant would instruct him to monitor other black police officers for deficiencies in their policing. A series of conflicts with the Lieutenant, which Williams perceived as racial biased, followed.  Williams was also investigated for various allegations of misconduct.  Williams was ultimately transferred from his position to a new position. After the transfer, Williams filed charges with the EEOC for race discrimination.

Williams needed to demonstrate he suffered an adverse employment action in order to be successful in his race discrimination suit. Courts define an adverse employment action as an action that constitutes a significant change in employment status such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.

Unfortunately for Williams, the District Court found he could not demonstrate that his transfer was an adverse employment action. The District Court noted that a Sergeant will serve as Acting Lieutenant when the Lieutenant is not on duty. The District Court noted:

From the record, it is not apparent how frequently a sergeant serves as an Acting Lieutenant; whether all sergeants serve as Acting Lieutenants; or the precise duties an Acting Lieutenant performs, aside from supervising subordinate officers in a lieutenant’s absence. Nor is there any indication that an Acting Lieutenant receives greater financial compensation, more benefits, or is more likely to be promoted to that position.

And, in his deposition, Williams stated: “I did not get demoted. I was not denied the opportunity to get promoted. I did not lose pay.”

This case illustrates the narrow view that come courts take when it comes to the adverse employment action requirement for discrimination cases.  Even though a transfer can feel as though it was done in retaliation or because of a protected activity, a plaintiff still must show he or she suffered an actual loss from the transfer. This can be done by demonstrating a change in hours, pay, or employment opportunities.  Ideally, showing a financial impact is best.  However, providing concrete evidence that the transfer impacted career opportunities in a negative way can also be sufficient.  Without such evidence, here, the Court dismissed Williams’ case.

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