Common Sense

COMMON SENSE….When I first read about Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, I was astonished. The basic facts are simple: In 1997, Sheila White complained of harrassment by a supervisor, and although the supervisor was suspended and ordered to attend a sexual-harassment training session, White was transferred to a more arduous job and was later suspended for 37 days after getting into a dispute with another worker.

The new job paid the same as the previous one and White was eventually vindicated in the worker dispute and received 37 days of back pay. This led Burlington Northern to argue that there had been no retaliation because, in the end, there was no monetary damage.

This argument is so prima facie absurd that I had a hard time believing any judge had taken it seriously. Today, in an effort to restore my faith in the universe, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this was, in fact, an absurd argument:

“Many reasonable workers would find a month without a paycheck to be a serious hardship,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.

….Breyer said workers could sue for retaliation over “materially adverse” employer actions. “In the present context, that means that the employer’s actions must be harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,” he wrote.

This is common sense at its finest: Retaliation is anything that would make a reasonable person fear filing a complaint, and monetary damages aren’t the only way to retaliate. Any first grader knows as much.

Thank you, Stephen Breyer.