What’s an “adverse employment action”?

Angelica Rascon alleged that Perryton ISD retaliated against her by taking “adverse employment” actions to punish her for engaging in “protected activity.” A plaintiff in a case like that has to prove three things: first, that I engaged in “protected activity.” Second, that I suffered an “adverse employment action” and third, that there is a causal connection between the two. In other words, I spoke truth to power and “the man” punished me for it.

The court tossed the case out based on PISD’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The bulk of the court’s opinion addresses what is and what is not an “adverse employment action.” Citing earlier cases the court noted that the term refers to “discharges, demotions, refusals to hire, refusal to promote and reprimands.” On the other hand, it does not include “trivial harms such as ‘petty slights, minor annoyances and simple lack of good manners.’”

Ms. Rascon cited seven specific things that she believed constituted “adverse” employment actions, but the court disagreed on all seven. The closest she came to success was on the claim that the district refused to promote her to assistant principal. She was recommended for the position and did not get it. But the district had a pretty good explanation for that. First, she failed the principal certification exam five times. That made her ineligible to take it again, and thus, not qualified for an A.P. position. Second, the district decided not to fill the position with anyone due to budget constraints. Third, the district did promote her—just not to A.P. Key Quote:

Defendants did not refuse to promote Plaintiff to assistant principal; they could not promote Plaintiff to assistant principal. Moreover, Plaintiff’s claim of adverse retaliatory action is weakened by the fact that Defendants promoted Plaintiff to district behavior support services coordinator.

The court spent less time dealing with the other six instances of alleged “adverse” action, concluding that none of them met the standard. For example:

…changes in employment duties are not “adverse employment actions.”

If placing an employee on a performance improvement plan is not an “ultimate employment decision” constituting an “adverse employment action,” then discussing job-related complaints with Plaintiff is not either.

It’s Rascon v. Perryton ISD, decided by the Court of Appeals for Amarillo on August 19, 2022. It’s cited at 2022 WL 3578257.


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Tomorrow: the power of teacher testimony