Retaliatory Reassignments: Where an employee is involuntarily moved or reassigned because he or she engaged in protected EEO activity, the Agency’s action may be viewed as retaliation.

Many federal government employees who have engaged in the EEO process know all too well that EEO activity may be received negatively by their chain of command. Most federal government employees who engage in the EEO process are also aware that they have the right to file an EEO complaint based on retaliation in the event they feel their management has taken a materially adverse action against them because of their EEO activity. One form of retaliation may be an involuntary reassignment to a different position, schedule, or work location. When reassigning an employee who has engaged in protected EEO activity, managers will often use the rationale that they are reassigning the employee away from whatever co-worker or supervisor was named in the employee’s EEO complaint as a way of “protecting” that employee. In reality, these types of involuntary reassignments may be viewed as punitive in nature, especially where the employee who engaged in EEO activity is moved to a less desirable work location or given less desirable duties.

Even if an Agency claims that a reassignment of an employee is intended to protect the employee rather than retaliate against the employee for having filed an EEO complaint, the involuntarily reassigned employee may have a viable EEO complaint that the reassignment was actually based on retaliation for the employee’s protected EEO activity. In Moore v. Department of Education, EEOC Appeal No. 0120111258 (August 15, 2013), the Complainant was detailed to an undesirable work assignment after filing an EEO complaint alleging, in part, sexual harassment. The Complainant’s third-level supervisor stated that after being informed of the EEO complaint, the Complainant was reassigned to “protect her” in the event her allegations of sexual harassment proved to be true. The EEOC found that detailing Complainant was not appropriate corrective action for the sexual harassment she suffered, explaining “that a complainant should not be involuntarily transferred or otherwise burdened, because such measures could constitute unlawful retaliation.” The EEOC concluded that the Complainant’s transfer in that particular case “was due to retaliation for Complainant’s claims of sexual harassment.”

Similarly, in Abrigo v. Department of Homeland Security, EEOC Appeal No. 0120064230 (September 15, 2008) (which was cited in the Moore decision), the Agency changed the Complainant’s schedule “to protect” her while investigating her sexual harassment claims. Even though the EEOC affirmed a finding of no discrimination as to the sexual harassment claims, the EEOC found that the subsequent schedule change was retaliatory. The EEOC concluded that the Agency failed to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory rationale for the schedule change, holding “that the undisputed record supports the finding that the agency engaged in reprisal toward complainant on the basis of her prior protected EEO activity when it changed her schedule.”

If you feel you have been subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected EEO activity and would like to discuss your situation with an attorney, please call the law firm of Bonney, Allenberg, & O’Reilly, P.C. to set up an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.