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Yes, You Can Be Denied A Promotion If You Refuse To Move To Where The Job Is Located

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Gender Discrimination, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

Imagine this scenario: You’ve put in years of hard work and dedication, mastering your role, and striving for that coveted promotion. You believe you deserve it, you’ve earned it, and yet, it slips through your fingers. Your mind races, searching for answers, and that’s where we come in, eager to untangle the enigma of employment law for you. Enter the intriguing case of Carlson v. Qualtek Wireless, LLC, No. 22-2569, 2023 WL 5094566 (3d Cir. Aug. 9, 2023), where a remote finance manager’s dreams of promotion collide with the cold reality of a city she was unwilling to move to. Let’s delve deeper into the legal terrain and answer the burning questions this case raises.

The narrative unfolds in 2010, when Carlson begins her journey with Velocitel, Inc., situated in Illinois. In 2017, Qualtek Wireless, LLC acquires Velocitel and extends an employment offer to Carlson. Here’s the twist—Carlson lives in Minnesota and enjoys the privilege of remote work. As time progresses, she climbs the career ladder, ascending to the position of finance manager.

The plot takes a turn in October 2019 with the entrance of Brandon Ebeling, the recipient of the sought-after Director of Finance role at Qualtek’s Pennsylvania headquarters. Here’s the catch—Ebeling resides in Pennsylvania, where the job is based. Carlson, however, throws her hat in the ring, even though the position necessitates a move she’s not willing to make. Her inquire about the feasibility of remote work is met with a resounding affirmation that the role is firmly rooted in Pennsylvania.

Sometime later, Qualtek eliminates all Finance Manager positions, including Carlson’s. And thus, Carlson initiates a legal battle, claiming that her employer violated Title VII through gender discrimination, failure to promote her, and retaliating by wrongfully terminating her after she voiced concerns about discrimination.

Under Title VII, what are the elements of a failure to promote based on gender?

Failure to promote claims rooted in gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 demand a careful analysis of multiple elements. The employee must demonstrate they belong to a protected class (in this case, being a woman), exhibit qualifications for the position they sought, show that they were passed over despite being qualified, and present evidence that the employer continued seeking applicants or promoted someone else outside the protected class in the aftermath of the rejection. Once the employee presents evidence of these elements, together know as the prima facie case, the employer must provide a legitimate business reason for employment decision. At that point, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer’s stated reason is pretext, which means false or not really a motivating reason for the decision. An employee cannot establish pretext by arguing the employer was making a bad business decision or that there was a better way of doing business.

In the case of Carlson, she certainly checks off the “qualified” box, and her gender, being female, places her in a protected class. However, to mount a strong claim, she would need to establish that her denial of promotion was linked to her gender rather than her unwillingness to relocate. The key point here is that her gender must be a contributing factor in the decision-making process, showing that her gender played a role in the company’s choice not to promote her.

On this point the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held:

As to the promotion, Qualtek explains that Carlson was not promoted because she was unwilling to relocate to Pennsylvania. Carlson has not shown that this non-retaliatory reason was pretextual. Carlson was repeatedly told that the position would require her to be in Pennsylvania and the two men ultimately hired for the position both worked in Qualtek’s Pennsylvania headquarters. Indeed, Carlson does not dispute that the position was in Pennsylvania or that she was unwilling to relocate there. Rather, she contends that she could effectively do the job from Minnesota, and that her supervisors recommended her for a promotion while she resided there. Even if these contentions are correct, they do not show any “weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherences, or contradictions” in Qualtek’s proffered non-retaliatory reason, Daniels v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 776 F.3d 181, 199 (3d Cir. 2015), and therefore Carlson’s failure to promote claim lacks merit.

Id. at *3 (footnotes omitted).

Best Gender Discrimination Lawyer Blogs on Point:

Under Title VII, what are the elements of a retaliations claim?

Retaliation claims often emerge as a compelling legal recourse when employees face adverse actions after engaging in protected activities, like reporting workplace discrimination. To establish a retaliation claim under Title VII, the employee must provide evidence of three critical elements: first, they engaged in a protected activity; second, they faced an adverse employment action; and third, a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse action.

In Carlson, her cancellation of the scheduled meeting with the Vice President of Human Resources due to “fear of retaliation” could potentially serve as evidence of her engaging in a protected activity—voicing concerns about potential gender discrimination. However, establishing the causal link would require demonstrating that her firing after this incident was a direct result of her expressed apprehension. This would entail evaluating the timeline, any shift in the company’s treatment towards her after the cancellation, and other relevant circumstances.

This brings us to…

Best Workplace Retaliation Attorney Blogs on Point:

Can I sue for wrongful termination based on gender discrimination if my company eliminated my position across the board and fired everyone in the same position?

The intricacies of wrongful termination claims are multifaceted, and in cases where positions are eliminated across the board, the analysis can be particularly complex. Generally, if an employer eliminates positions without targeting specific individuals based on protected characteristics like gender, age, or race, the termination is not inherently discriminatory.

Carlson’s contention that her gender played a role in her firing would likely hinge on demonstrating that her role was specifically selected for elimination due to her gender. However, if the company can show a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for eliminating all Finance Manager positions, such as a restructuring to streamline operations, proving gender-based wrongful termination could prove challenging.

Best Wrongful Termination Law Firm Blogs on Point:

What should I do if I think I was denied a promotion or wrongfully fired because of my gender?

Navigating the maze of employment law can feel overwhelming, especially when faced with potential gender discrimination, denial of promotion, or wrongful termination. This is where the expertise of a seasoned attorney comes into play. Employment law is intricate, and its nuances demand legal guidance that not only comprehends the law but also has the experience to apply it effectively.

Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, stands as a beacon of hope in these murky waters. Our commitment to justice extends to a free initial consultation, during which we listen to your story, understand your situation, and offer tailored advice. And, perhaps most notably, our No Fee Guarantee ensures that pursuing justice doesn’t add financial strain to your predicament. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?). We believe that fairness should be accessible to all, and our dedication to your case reflects that belief.

In conclusion, the case of Carlson v. Qualtek Wireless, LLC, brings to light the intricate web of employment law, highlighting the challenges and complexities individuals face when asserting their rights in the workplace. If you’re grappling with similar issues, know that you’re not alone, and calling the right attorney can make all the difference in your pursuit of justice.

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This employment law website is intended for informative purposes. The materials available at the top of the employment discrimination blog page, covering gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and failure to promote, are designed to provide insights, not legal advice. Your use of this website and its links does not establish an attorney-client relationship for your employment law concerns. The opinions expressed here by individual lawyers may not necessarily represent the stance of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any specific attorney. When seeking tailored guidance, consult a qualified attorney to address your unique legal needs.

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