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Denial of bonuses could be discriminatory

According to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, reducing the discretionary bonus to an employee might be considered a discriminatory action for workers in New Jersey and throughout the United States. One aspect of determining whether discrimination has occurred is demonstrating that an adverse employment action has happened, and the appeals court overturned a lower court decision that had dismissed a case on the grounds that reducing the bonus was not an adverse employment action.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a teacher in New York who took several months of unpaid medical leave following a car accident. The school hired a substitute to fill her position. As part of a union agreement, teachers could receive bonuses from money the system received from the Department of Education for student achievement. The school district gave $3,000 bonuses to other teachers, but they split this teacher's bonus between the substitute and her. She received $1,000 and alleged that this was the result of disability discrimination.

However, although the appeals court agreed that this could be an adverse employment action, it dismissed the case anyway on the grounds that discrimination could not be proven. According to the court, the substitute was due some of the bonus on the basis of performance.

Workers who have faced discrimination on the job may wish to first attempt to resolve the problem internally. However, if supervisors and human resources are not responsive, the worker may to speak with an employment litigation attorney to determine if any recourse is available. In some cases, it may be appropriate to initiate the grievance by filing a claim with the appropriate state or federal agency.

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