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To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., a plaintiff must show that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; (3) he was qualified for the position in question; and (4) he was treated differently from similarly situated individuals outside of his protected class.
The firefighter worked for the fire department for seven years without any negative incidents. After being diagnosed with gender identity disorder, he began expressing a more feminine appearance, including at work. He alleged that city officials conspired to force him to resign. Four days after he received his "right to sue" letter, he was suspended for 24 hours. The firefighter sued his employer, City of Salem, Ohio, and various city officials alleging that they discriminated against him on the basis of sex in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. The district court granted defendants a judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The firefighter appealed.
Did the firefighter demonstrate that he suffered an adverse employment action?
The court held that the temporal proximity between the events was significant enough to constitute direct evidence of a causal connection. The district court erred by holding that the suspension was not an adverse employment action because it had been reversed by a state court. The court held that the firefighter had stated an adverse employment action and had satisfied all of the elements necessary to allege a prima facie case of employment discrimination and retaliation pursuant to Title VII. Common to both the employment discrimination and retaliation claims is a showing of an adverse employment action, which is defined as a "materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of [plaintiff's] employment." Here, the Fire Department suspended Smith for twenty-four hours. Because Smith works in twenty-four hour shifts, that twenty-four hour suspension was the equivalent of three eight-hour days for the average worker, or, approximately 60% of a forty-hour work week. Pursuant to the liberal notice pleading requirements set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, this allegation, at this phase of the litigation, is sufficient to satisfy the adverse employment requirement of both an employment discrimination and retaliation claim pursuant to Title VII. Although the court held that the firefighter had failed to state a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 claim based on violations of his right to due process, he had stated a § 1983 claim of sex discrimination, grounded in an alleged equal protection violation.