Last month, a federal appeals court held that an employer’s denial of an employee’s request to move her office could amount to illegal retaliation. In Lockridge v. University of Maine, the plaintiff professor sued the university for, among other things, retaliation. After filing a sex discrimination charge with the state anti-discrimination agency, she asked to move her office from a satellite building to the department’s main building. Her employer denied her request, and in doing so made a reference to the plaintiff’s “continuing legal issues.” The court held that the denial could be an adverse employment action under retaliation law.
The court’s pronouncement in this regard is striking for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrates that retaliation claims can be incredibly broad-based. Actions far short of firing can support such claims. Second, it reinforces that the law in this area is, in many instances, counterintuitive. Finally, it suggests that employers who do not train their supervisors on retaliation law do so at their own peril. Supervisors are on the front lines of their employers’ efforts to guard against lawsuits. Don’t send them into battle unarmed.