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Paid Suspension is Not an Adverse Employment Action

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a racial bias case, concluding that a paid suspension is not an adverse employment action. To proceed on a claim of racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the aggrieved party must show an adverse employment action.

Former Representative Artur Davis, a Black male, sued Legal Services Alabama (LSA) in 2017 after the organization placed him on paid suspension. Davis used to represent Alabama in Congress. Davis was the executive director of LSA, which provided civil legal services to low-income individuals. LSA’s executive committee voted to suspend him pending an investigation into complaints about Davis’s actions and allegations of a hostile work environment. Several days after learning he was suspended, Davis resigned from his employment with LSA.

Davis sued LSA for race discrimination in violation of Title VII. To assess whether Davis alleged an adequate adverse employment action, the court looked to circuit precedent. Prior decisions held an adverse employment action should “affect continued employment or pay–things like terminations, demotions, suspensions without pay, and pay raises or cuts–as well as other things that are similarly significant standing alone.” The circuit court further stated, “No Circuit has held that a simple paid suspension, in and of itself, constitutes an adverse employment action.”  A paid suspension allows employers to “pause” while they investigate issues without concern that a high-ranking employee under investigation would be looking over the shoulders of witnesses. Davis claimed the way the company handled his suspension, including disclosing it to others and assigning a guard to the building, rose to the level of adverse employment action. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the dismissal of his case.