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Media Alerts - Michelle Jones v. SEPTA - Third Circuit
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August 17, 2015
  Michelle Jones v. SEPTA - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Holds That Suspension with Pay Does Not Constitute an "Adverse Employment Action" under the Substantive Discrimination Provision of Title VII.

Area of Law: Employment

Issue Presented: Does suspension with pay constitute an "adverse employment action" under the substantive discrimination provision of Title VII?

Brief Summary:
In 2011, Michelle Jones was fired by SEPTA where she had been employed for ten years. SEPTA stated that it dismissed Jones for submitting fraudulent timesheets. Jones alleged that her termination was the result of years of unlawful sexual harassment by her supervisor, gender discrimination, and retaliation. The district court entered summary judgment for SEPTA, primarily on the basis that Jones's initial suspension with pay did not constitute an "adverse employment action." In its opinion, the Third Circuit agreed and held that suspension with pay, without more, does not constitute an "adverse employment action" under the substantive discrimination provision of Title VII. The Court also analyzed Jones's claims based on her subsequent suspension without pay and termination, and found that Jones still failed to show a prima facie case for each of her claims. Accordingly, the Third Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court.

Extended Summary:
In 2001, Michelle Jones began working as an administrative assistant in the Revenue Operations Department of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) under the supervision of Alfred Outlaw. On December 1, 2010, Outlaw suspended Jones with full pay after he discovered apparent fraud in her timesheets. Outlaw referred the timesheet matter to SEPTA's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Promptly after being suspended with pay, Jones informed SEPTA's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office that she intended to file a complaint against Outlaw for sexual harassment and retaliation. SEPTA launched an internal investigation. SEPTA found one instance where Outlaw engaged in inappropriate behavior by asking Jones to step on his back to relieve spinal pain. As a result, Outlaw was required to attend a training session regarding SEPTA's sexual harassment policy and he received a demerit on his yearly evaluation. SEPTA's internal investigation was ended in March 2011 when Jones filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Resources Commission alleging that Outlaw had sexually harassed her and other female employees, ordered her to do personal work for him during business hours, and retaliated against her for resisting this mistreatment by accusing her of timesheet fraud.

In February 2011, after an extensive investigation, OIG concluded that Jones collected pay for days she had not worked by submitting fraudulent timesheets. SEPTA suspended Jones without pay on February 22, 2011 and formally terminated her in April 2011. While SEPTA stated that it dismissed Jones for submitting fraudulent timesheets, Jones alleged she was fired because of years of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation.

Jones filed suit against SEPTA and Outlaw for alleged gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (PHRA), as well as for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, common law wrongful termination, and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The district court dismissed the wrongful termination claim and later granted summary judgment for SEPTA on all of the remaining claims. The district court held that Jones's claims failed because her initial suspension with pay was not an adverse action within the meaning of the employment discrimination laws.

The Third Circuit Court agreed, holding that a paid suspension, without more, does not constitute an adverse action in the substantive discrimination context. The Court explained that a paid suspension is neither a refusal to hire nor a termination, and it does not change compensation. Further, it is not a "serious and tangible" alteration of the "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment," because the terms and conditions of employment ordinarily include the possibility that an employee will be subject to an employer's disciplinary policies in appropriate circumstances.

The Court then analyzed whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to SEPTA on Jones's claims based on her subsequent suspension without pay and termination. The Court affirmed the district court, finding that Jones failed to demonstrate "some causal nexus" between her gender and the alleged adverse treatment by SEPTA. The Court reasoned that the record lacked evidence supporting an inference that Jones's suspension without pay and termination were the product of discrimination instead of the natural result of SEPTA's investigation into the allegations of timesheet fraud. The Court also analyzed and rejected Jones's remaining claims and, thus, affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of SEPTA.

To read the full opinion, please visit

Panel (if known): Hardiman, Greenaway, Jr., and Krause, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: March 23, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: August 12, 2015

Docket Number: 14-3814

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Jaclyn Poulton

Attorneys for Appellant, Michelle Precia Jones:
Olugbenga O. Abiona & Brian M. Rhodes

Attorneys for Appellees, SEPTA and Alfred Outlaw:
Danielle Banks & Michelle K. Carson (Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young)

Author of Opinion: Judge Hardiman

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 08/17/2015 10:54 AM     3rd Circuit  

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