The federal court decision I read last night reaffirms one of the many reasons I enjoy practicing employment law: I’ll never run out of good stories to tell.
This one involves a plaintiff who worked as a security counselor for a state hospital in the Midwest. He alleged in his complaint that his supervisor informed him and 31 of his colleagues that they had to complete computer-based workplace training units on anti-racism and gender identity. One was called “How to be Anti-Racist,” and the other was “Understanding Gender Identity and Expression: Moving Beyond the Binary.”
The plaintiff claimed that he opposed the anti-racism training because he equated it to Critical Race Theory, which he viewed as violating “the traditional view of equality under Title VII.” He also opposed the gender identity training because he viewed the concept of nonbinary gender to be “contrary to his sincerely held religious belief.”
It’s not clear from the complaint how the plaintiff opposed the anti-racism training. But, he alleged that he requested a religious exemption from the gender identity training, which the employer rejected and would not revisit on appeal.
All of this apparently caused the plaintiff to resign and then sue for, among other things, retaliation.
Absent direct evidence of retaliation, of which there was none here, the plaintiff had to show three elements to at least have a chance of winning:
- he engaged in protected activity;
- he suffered a materially adverse action that would deter a reasonable employee from making a charge of employment discrimination; and
- there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action.
But he couldn’t even get past step one.
A protected activity often involves complaining about what the employee reasonably perceives as unlawful workplace behavior. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that his protected activity was when he “voiced dissent” to the mandate of additional training.
But here’s the thing.
It’s not unlawful to require employees to attend diversity training. Indeed, employers are encouraged to conduct anti-harassment training to avoid this type of mishigas.
But even assuming that objecting to anti-harassment training did constitute protected activity, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (his second bite at the apple) alleged no facts to allow any reasonable person to infer that he suffered a materially adverse employment action.
While the plaintiff claimed that things got so bad that he was forced to resign, the judge brushed this argument aside. The Amended Complaint had no facts to support that the plaintiff’s objection to training fostered a hostile work environment so bad that he had no choice but to resign.
Case dismissed. And, presumably, the judge had a great story to share with her colleagues.