The United States District Court for the District of Columbia recently permitted a Title VII retaliation claim to proceed to trial based on allegations of retaliatory relocation of a worker’s workstation. In Massaquoi v. District of Columbia, the plaintiff was relocated to a new workstation one month after he complained to his supervisor about disparate treatment from his co-worker (who later became his new supervisor). The plaintiff’s new workstation was in a smaller and noisier location and, according to the plaintiff, made him feel claustrophobic. The plaintiff, who alleged he suffers from anxiety, submitted to his new supervisor a request to move his work station as an accommodation of his alleged disability. This request was denied. The District argued that the move was part of a division-wide realignment which relocated the plaintiff near his work unit. The Court, however, found sufficient evidence to show the relocation was retaliatory, including evidence showing his relocation occurred one month before the division-wide realignment and that the record was void of any evidence that other employee workstations were relocated as part of the alleged realignment. The District also failed to offer an explanation for denying the plaintiff’s request to be relocated to a quieter area as an accommodation.
While the Court acknowledged that the facts supporting plaintiff’s claims of retaliation could be viewed as minimal, it was sufficient to survive summary judgment. The takeaway is clear: employers should take caution when making changes to the terms or conditions (even physical conditions) of employment after an employee engages in a protected activity. Here, simply moving a workstation to a less desirable location proved to be enough to allow the plaintiff to proceed toward trial.