Denial of Request for Office Space Can be Basis for Claim

In Lockridge v. The University of Maine System, Professor Lockridge claimed that the university’s denial of a request to locate her office much closer to the senior colleagues in her department was gender discrimination because a similarly-situated male professor was located at the department’s main office area.  Title VII and analogous federal and state discrimination statutes are not triggered unless the employee suffers an “adverse employment action.”  Examples of adverse employment actions typically include milestones in an employee’s work life such as hiring, demotion, discipline, salary reduction, transfer, termination, and the like.  Now, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit says that an employer’s failure to honor an office space request can qualify as an “adverse employment action.”  “We think that, under certain circumstances, the denial of an employees’ request for office space could dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.  Indeed, we have previously concluded that ‘disadvantageous transfers or assignments’ can be materially adverse, although in the context of conditions more severe than those attending the usual employee office space request.”    WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU: Employers should be aware that they should treat the denial of an office space request carefully when the employee making the request is in a protected class because, in certain circumstances, it may trigger federal and/or state discrimination statute protection.  Employees should be aware that if they feel that a denial for better office space was triggered, at least in part, by discrimination based on a protected attribute such as race or gender, you may be able to seek the protection of state and/or federal discrimination statutes.  Contact Muller Law to see how this case applies to your situation.