Mills v. Southern Connecticut State University
A denial of a request for a promotion may qualify as an adverse employment action, for purposes of an employee's Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims. In 1992, the defendant employer, Southern Connecticut State University, hired the plaintiff, Judith Mills. Mills sued the university, alleging discrimination, retaliation and hostile-work environment, in violation of Title VII. The District Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, and Mills appealed to the 2nd Circuit. The 2nd Circuit reviewed de novo. Although Mills complained about co-workers who allegedly engaged in intimidating conduct, hugged her, shunned her, denied her request to teach upper-level courses and denied her request for a promotion, only the denial of her request for a promotion qualified as an adverse employment action. Mills failed to provide sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to conclude an inference of employment discrimination existed on the basis of gender. Although male faculty on the evaluation committee allegedly resigned, so that they would not be required to evaluate Mills' request for a promotion, the record established that male faculty resigned to avoid any perception of discrimination. "Mills points to no evidence," wrote the 2nd Circuit, "from which a factfinder could reasonably infer that the decision not to promote her was related to her gender, nor does she submit evidence that similarly situated men were treated differently." Mills failed to establish her workplace was severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult, sufficient to alter the terms and conditions of employment, or that her gender constituted the motivating factor for the alleged treatment. "[I]t is axiomatic that in order to establish a sex-based hostile work environment under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct occurred because of her sex," pursuant to Alfano v. Costello, a 2002 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Mills also failed to prove retaliatory failure to promote, after she complained about alleged workplace discrimination, harassment and intimidation. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court, Bryant, J. William Palmieri represented the plaintiff. Margaret Chapple and Maura Osborne represented the university.