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A high school nurse in Louisiana can’t proceed with a claim that her transfer to a different school was retaliation for voicing concerns about the school’s failure to accommodate a disabled student who later committed suicide.
Lori Rayborn, a nurse at Parkway High School in Louisiana, didn’t meet the standards for a retaliation under state law and the First Amendment, and she also lacked support for two other claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided Feb. 2, affirming a district court decision.
A job transfer is not necessarily evidence of retaliation. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance indicates that “transfers to less prestigious or desirable work or work locations” is an example of something that might qualify as “materially adverse” and therefore actionable as retaliation.
“Rayborn’s claim fails because she cannot show an adverse employment action,” Judge Edith Brown Clement said in writing for the court majority. Rayborn’s transfer to a different school within the same school system didn’t qualify as adverse because she didn’t lose pay, benefits, or responsibilities, the appeals court said.
“Although her office facilities at the new school were subjectively less desirable, and she no longer worked at the school her children attended, these differences do not amount to a demotion,” Clement said.
Rayborn worked with a Parkway student who had diabetes. She recommended the student be put on a plan designed to help students with disabilities, but the student never was. The student committed suicide in 2011, allegedly because her classmates bullied her, the court said.
Rayborn said the school’s failure to place the student on an assistance plan raised concerns.
Her supervisors acted differently around her after Rayborn voiced her concerns, the court said.
Judge James L. Dennis said the majority erred in “by failing to consider whether any reasonable jury could find that Rayborn’s transfer amounted to a demotion.” disagreed in part with the court majority.
The court applied the right standard for the claim under the Louisiana Whisleblower Statute but “inappropriately” drew conclusions from “disputed facts, Dennis said in a separate opinion dissenting in part from the majority.
Dennis agreed with the court majority on Rayborn’s other claims.
The case is Rayborn v. Bossier Parish School Board, 5th Cir. App., No. 16-30903, 2/2/18.
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