Sergeant Failed To Show Causal Connection Between Title VII Protected Activities And Adverse Employment Actions

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Dec 08, 2020

In 2015, Sergeant Jeffrey Green of the Phoenix Police Department (Department) sued the City of Phoenix (City).  He alleged the City violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by retaliating against him for: filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); helping a subordinate file a sexual harassment complaint, and refusing to aid his supervisor in conduct violating Title VII.

To establish retaliation under Title VII, an employee must show that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) he experienced an adverse employment action; and (3) his protected activity was a “but-for” cause of the employer’s alleged adverse action.  Green alleged the following adverse employment actions that occurred after he engaged in his protected activities: he had two fitness-for-duty evaluations, and he received a poor performance review.

At trial, a jury returned a $1.5 million verdict for Green.  The City then moved for judgment as a matter of law, which the district court granted, thereby vacating the jury verdict.  The district court held that Green failed to show a “but-for” causal connection between his protected activities and the adverse employment actions he later experienced.  Green appealed, alleging that he had satisfied the causal connection requirement.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the district court’s ruling.  The Ninth Circuit held that Green presented no evidence that the supervisor who ordered Green to undergo the first fitness-for-duty examination had any knowledge of Green’s alleged protected activities. Green also presented no evidence that his second fitness-for-duty examination was related to any of his purported protected activities.  Lastly, the Ninth Circuit found that Green received negative feedback from his supervisors on multiple occasions prior to receiving his negative performance evaluation and that there was no evidence that the negative evaluation was pretextual.

Green v. City of Phoenix, 823 Fed.Appx. 549 (2020)


Although this case is unpublished and generally not citable, it reaffirms that employees alleging retaliation under Title VII must present specific evidence showing a causal connection between an employee’s protected activities and any adverse employment action. An employee cannot show this connection if a decision-maker had no knowledge of the alleged protected activities.

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