When a Nominally Lateral Job Reassignment Can Be a Valid Basis for a Discrimination Lawsuit in New York

Thomas Jefferson famously said that “all men are created equal.” As everyone knows, however, not all jobs are created equal, even those with the same title or rank at the same place of employment. A smaller or larger team beneath you and smaller or greater responsibilities can mean extremely important distinctions in prestige, and therefore differences in the overall benefits or advantages of one job versus another. If you’ve received a reassignment that your employer has couched as a “lateral move” that you recognize as really a demotion, and that reassignment happened because of your sex, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic, get in touch with a New York employment discrimination lawyer without delay to discuss your options.

L.P. was one of those workers, according to her sex discrimination lawsuit. She had started with the NYPD in 1987 and, by 2018, had risen to the rank of three-star chief and served as the department’s Chief of Crime Control Strategies. In 2019, after the department’s Chief of Detectives was promoted to Commissioner, L.P. expressed an interest in the now-vacant Chief of Detectives role.

The woman did not eceive that appointment, however. (It went to a man.) L.P., instead, was appointed to the role of Chief of Collaborative Policing. Due to a departmental reorganization instituted by the new Commissioner, her new position involved reporting to a new civilian Deputy Commissioner over the Bureau of Community Partnerships.

In her old role as the Chief of Crime Control Strategies, L.P. had a team of 300+ who served beneath her and she “had frequent interactions with the press, city executives, the public, community leaders, and elected officials,” according to her complaint. In her new role, she had significantly fewer responsibilities than in her old job and supervised only nine employees.

L.P.’s lawsuit asserted a claim of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. In a federal sex discrimination case like L.P.’s, you need several essential things for success. One of these is proof that you suffered an “adverse employment action.” This can take many different forms. It can be a termination (or constructive discharge, where your work situation is so intensely intolerable that you have no realistic choice but to resign.) It can also be a refusal to hire, a suspension, a demotion, a reduction in pay scale, a reduction in hours, a reduction in benefits, an unwarranted negative performance review, or unwarranted extra performance assessments.

A Reduction in ‘Prestige’ or ‘Authority’ Can Make an Action Adverse

It can also, sometimes, be a lateral job move. Even if the transfer involves moving from one role to another where both have the same title or rank (and, in some cases, even the same pay,) a lateral transfer can be adverse. This happens when the new role is less prestigious, less desirable, has fewer benefits, or fewer responsibilities than your old job.

In L.P.’s case, the department argued that the failure to name L.P. as either the Chief of Detectives or to the newly established Deputy Commissioner role, as well as the decision to name her Chief of Collaborative Policing were non-adverse because each of these moves represented (or would have represented) a lateral reassignment.

L.P., however, had facts that said otherwise. For one thing, the woman had evidence that the new Commissioner had arrived in that high position after going from Chief of Community Policing to Chief of Detectives to Commissioner. This trajectory supported L.P.’s “contention that Chief of Detectives has more prestige and authority than Chief of Crime Control Strategies,” according to the court.

Similarly, L.P. presented proof that the new Deputy Commissioner role reported “directly to the Commissioner and [oversaw] three subordinate commands, two of which were led by three-star chiefs,” making it a promotion over her old job.

As for the new job L.P. did receive, she had evidence that it involved going from a staff of 300+ to a staff of nine, and it involved “a decrease in management responsibilities and prestige,” thereby making the assignment adverse.

As you can see from this police chief’s case, proving that a job transfer or reassignment is, in fact, a demotion as opposed to a lateral move or, on the flip side, proving that a denied reassignment would have been a promotion and not a lateral move, involves careful arguments and detailed evidence. You have to be prepared for your employer to argue that the moves were all lateral, and you have to be prepared to overcome that assertion.

When it comes to winning these critical arguments, you need a powerful legal team on your side. Count on the knowledgeable New York sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be the effective legal advocate you need in seeking justice for the employment opportunity that was wrongfully denied to you. For the answers you need, contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today. Set up a free and confidential consultation right away to find out how we can help you.

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