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United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
October 26, 2021, Argued; June 3, 2022, Decided
Tatel, Circuit Judge, and GINSBURG, Senior Circuit Judge: In 1999, our court ruled in Brown v. Brody that the denial or forced acceptance of a job transfer is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only if the employee suffered "objectively tangible harm." 199 F.3d 446, 457, 339 U.S. App. D.C. 233. Because this rule is inconsistent with Title VII and because intervening Supreme Court authority has eroded its reasoning, we now overrule it. ] We hold that an employer that transfers an employee or denies an employee's transfer request because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin violates Title VII by discriminating against the employee with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
Mary Chambers [*3] worked in the District of Columbia's Office of the Attorney General for more than twenty years before this litigation, first as a clerk and later as a Support Enforcement Specialist and investigator. Complaining of a larger caseload than that of her colleagues, she sought numerous transfers to different units in the Office. After these requests were denied, she filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that similarly situated male employees had been granted transfers they requested. She filed this Title VII suit against the District in 2014 alleging unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation.
The district court, applying Brown, granted summary judgment to the District. The court concluded that Chambers had proffered no evidence that the denial of her transfer requests, even if motivated by discriminatory animus, caused her "'objectively tangible harm.'" Chambers v. District of Columbia, 389 F. Supp. 3d 77, 93 (D.D.C. 2019) (quoting Brown, 199 F.3d at 457). Noting we were bound by Brown, a panel of this court affirmed for the same reason. Chambers v. District of Columbia, 988 F.3d 497, 501, 451 U.S. App. D.C. 138 (2021). The members of the panel—the authors of this opinion—wrote separately, however, to echo concerns voiced in prior opinions that Brown's limitation on claims for discriminatory lateral transfers contravenes [*4] Title VII, which makes no reference to "objectively tangible harm" or any similar requirement. Id. at 503-04; see Ortiz-Diaz v. U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, 867 F.3d 70, 80-81, 432 U.S. App. D.C. 82 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (Rogers, J., concurring); id. at 81 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring). The panel members urged "that the full court hear this case en banc to correct this clear legal error." Chambers, 988 F.3d at 506. Heeding that call, the full court granted rehearing en banc to reconsider Brown's rule that the denial or forced acceptance of a job transfer is actionable under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), only if the employee suffered "'objectively tangible harm.'" Chambers v. District of Columbia, No. 19- 7098, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 13387, 2021 WL 1784792 (May 5, 2021) (quoting Brown, 199 F.3d at 457).
On rehearing, Chambers contends that Brown is facially inconsistent with Title VII. In her view, discrimination "connotes any differential treatment," and Title VII prohibits all workplace discrimination based upon a protected characteristic. Appellant's Br. 16. The United States filed an amicus brief in support of Chambers. The District also agrees that Title VII has no requirement of "objectively tangible harm" and that discriminatory transfers violate Title VII, but nonetheless urges us to stop short of accepting Chambers's broad formulation, lest the courts be deluged by challenges to "de minimis or harmless" workplace decisions. Appellee's Br. 10. With the parties in agreement that Brown should [*5] be overruled, we appointed Zachary C. Schauf as amicus curiae to defend the rule in Brown. He has ably done so, and the court thanks him for his assistance.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 15372 *; __ F.4th __; 2022 WL 1815522
MARY E. CHAMBERS, APPELLANT v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE
Prior History: [*1] On Rehearing En Banc.
Chambers v. Dist. of Columbia, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 13387, 2021 WL 1784792 (D.C. Cir., May 5, 2021)
cases, terms, tangible, job transfer, conditions, discriminate, colleagues, transfers, workplace, privileges of employment, overruling, decisions, de minimis, antidiscrimination provision, discriminatory, material injury, harassment, sex, cleaned, harms, employment action, en banc, reasons, courts, amicus, employment condition, reassignment, stare decisis, disparate-treatment, antiretaliation
Labor & Employment Law, Employment Practices, Adverse Employment Actions, Reassignments & Transfers, Discrimination, Actionable Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, Covered Employees & Employers, Disparate Treatment, Scope & Definitions, National Origin Discrimination, Failures to Hire, Discriminatory Employment Practices, Retaliation, Elements, Adverse Employment Actions, Harassment, Racial Harassment, Harassing Conduct, Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Religious Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent