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Fifth Circuit Reminds Plaintiffs That Not Every Unpleasant Experience At Work Is Something They Can Sue Over Under Title VII’s Anti-Discrimination Provision

November 15, 2019

In Stroy v. Gibson, 896 F.3d 693 (5th Cir. 2018), opinion here, the plaintiff, Stroy, was an African-American doctor for the VA. Dr. Stroy believed that the VA implemented a peer review of his patient care decisions because of his race, so he filed suit against the VA under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits, among other things, race discrimination in employment. The VA moved to have Dr. Stroy’s case thrown out on summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. Dr. Stroy then filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision. It noted that only “adverse employment actions” may be grounds to sue under Title VII. “Adverse employment actions” are “ultimate employment decisions . . . such as hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, granting leave, and compensating.” Under this standard, the VA’s implementation of a peer review was not an “adverse employment action,” as it did not adversely affect Dr. Story’s job responsibilities, pay, or privileges. As such, Dr. Stroy could not sue for discrimination under Title VII based on the VA’s decision to implement a peer review of his patient care decisions.

This cases illustrates the point that while employees may experience a wide array of annoying, irritating, and upsetting things in the workplace, only employer-initiated “adverse employment actions” may be grounds for a discrimination claim under Title VII.

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