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U.S. Supreme Court: Title VII Prohibits Discriminatory Job Transfers Regardless of ‘Significant’ Harm

21 May

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What happened?

On April 17, 2024, the US Supreme Court in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, et al. expanded Title VII protections stating that even job transfers not causing a “materially significant disadvantage” can be discriminatory. The employee must show “some harm” to employment terms and conditions, but it does not have to be significant. 


What are the details?

Background

  • Sergeant Muldrow, initially assigned to the Intelligence Division where she worked on various high-profile cases and was deputized by the FBI, was transferred to the Fifth District by Interim Police Commissioner Lawrence O’Toole’s appointee, Captain Deeba.
  • This change led to a different work schedule, responsibilities, and the loss of special FBI-related privileges including a potential $17,500 in annual overtime pay.
  • After her transfer, Sergeant Muldrow was asked to return FBI-issued equipment, which she did, and her Task Force Officer status was revoked.
  • She filed a discrimination charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights against the City of St. Louis and Captain Deeba, later filing an action in Missouri state court alleging Title VII violations.

The case

  • The case was removed to federal court, where the district court granted summary judgment against her Title VII claims and dismissed her state law claims because she failed to demonstrate sufficient harm resulting from the transfer.

The Supreme Court Decision

  • The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision penned by Justice Elena Kagan, clarified that under Title VII, an employee challenging a job transfer only needs to demonstrate some harm to their employment terms or conditions, regardless of its significance. The Court emphasized that any transfer causing detriment due to a protected characteristic like sex or race violates Title VII’s anti-discrimination clause.

Conclusion:

  • Given the ease for employees to assert and substantiate Title VII discrimination claims related to transfers or reassignments, employers should be more vigilant when managing such employment actions and should consult with HR or legal counsel before executing transfers and reassignments.
  • The Court’s ruling simplifies Title VII claims, removing the “significance” requirement. This eases the process for employees to assert discrimination claims based on transfers or reassignments.


Business Considerations

  • Considering the Muldrow ruling, it is crucial for employers to be careful when transferring employees. Transfers should be based on legitimate business needs and avoid any discrimination. Any changes, even those not seen as significant, could be perceived as harmful if linked to protected characteristics such as race or sex. These changes could include financial impacts or alterations to an employee’s schedule, career prospects, or personal life.
  • Employers should document and have valid reasons for the transfer, including employee-requested ones or performance issues.


Source References


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This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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