A Reprimand Does Not Constitute a Material Adverse Employment Action


Although we have recently discussed the federal appellate courts’ expansion of Title VII liability to cover actions short of “ultimate employment decisions,” it is important to note that the challenged actions must still have some material impact, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently reiterated.

In Fuller v. McDonough, the employee claimed that she was reprimanded in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint in violation of Title VII. In order to establish a retaliation claim, employees must show: (1) that they engaged in some protected activity (like filing a harassment complaint or participating in a harassment investigation), (2) that they suffered some adverse action, and (3) a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action. An adverse action, however, must be material – “meaning more than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities,” as the Seventh Circuit noted in another case that it referenced here. However, as the Seventh Circuit stated, “a documented reprimand alone is not an adverse action absent some tangible job consequence” such as “ineligibility for job benefits like promotion, transfer to a favorable location, or an advantageous increase in responsibilities.”

In fact, turning the employee’s argument on its head, the Seventh Circuit asserted that, “job-related criticism can prompt an employee to improve her performance and thus lead to a new and more constructive employment relationship.” Thus, rather than an adverse action, a reprimand is arguably a positive opportunity.