Image of Is a negative performance evaluation an actionable retaliatory action or adverse employment action?

Is a negative performance evaluation an actionable retaliatory action or adverse employment action?

Courts have held that where performance improvement plans and negative performance reviews precede an eventual termination, they may constitute adverse actions.  See, e.g., Winston v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 633 F.Supp.2d 42, 51 (S.D.N.Y. 2009); see also McBroom v. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Inc., 747 F.Supp.2d 906, (N.D. Ohio 2010) (citing cases and finding “evidence in the record that the negative appraisals and performance plans supplied the necessary foundation for Plaintiff’s eventual separation” sufficient to constitute adverse actions).

“An adverse action is one 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.” Hoyle v. Freightliner, LLC, 650 F.3d 321, 337 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Generally, a “poor performance evaluation is actionable only where the employer subsequently uses the evaluation as a basis to detrimentally alter the terms or conditions of the recipient’s employment. An evaluation merely causing a loss of prestige or status is not actionable.” James v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 368 F.3d 371, 377 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

When a pattern of discriminatory conduct is alleged, specific individual acts should be viewed as a whole, rather than as isolated incidents.  See, Ross v. Douglas Cnty., 234 F.3d 391, 397 (8th Cir. 2000). Discriminatory actions should not be viewed individually, with each act itself required to constitute an “adverse employment action,” but rather the court should determine whether the actions, viewed as a whole, were discriminatory and connected to one another.  Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046 (8th Cir. 1998).  State and federal courts recognize that “adverse employment actions” include actions short of those causing economic disadvantage.  The United States Supreme Court has recognized that “adverse actions” are not limited to those actions which are economic or tangible.  See, Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 786 (1998).

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Jason Zuckerman, Principal of Zuckerman Law, litigates whistleblower retaliation, qui tam, wrongful discharge, and other employment-related claims. He is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2015 and selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® and in SuperLawyers.