May 21, 2024 Employment Discrimination

Supreme Court Clarifies Requirements in Discriminatory Job Transfer Suits

Employers should be aware of a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that may make it easier for some plaintiffs to sue for discrimination. The lawsuit involved a plaintiff who alleged sex discrimination in a job transfer. The issue in the case was whether she suffered sufficient harm from the transfer to bring a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII. 

Facts of the Case

In Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, the plaintiff was a police sergeant who was transferred from the intelligence unit to another position that was allegedly less prestigious and came with other drawbacks. She did retain her rank and pay. She sued for sex discrimination but the trial court and US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed her suit on the grounds that neither the transfer nor the denial resulted in significant harm to her.

Supreme Court Decision

The federal circuit courts have been split on the level of harm that must be shown in the case of a transfer or denial of a transfer based on a protected characteristic. The Supreme Court’s decision resolves the conflict indicating the standard of harm that should apply.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that to prevail in a suit alleging a discriminatory transfer, employees must show they suffered some harm related to a job condition, though the harm need not be significant or serious. The Court noted there was nothing in the law that required an elevated threshold of harm for job transfers. 

Concurring Opinions

Three justices filed concurring opinions in the case. Justice Roberts argued that no showing of harm is necessary to sue for a discriminatory transfer under Title VII. Justice Alito felt that the requirement of showing “some harm” was too vague and unhelpful. Justice Thomas questioned what harm the plaintiff could establish on remand.

Takeaways for Employers

The Muldrow decision focused on transfers, but the reasoning could be applied to other allegedly adverse actions, such as changes in work schedules and disciplinary actions that do not result in a loss of pay. 

Accordingly, employers should ensure that they have clear policies and procedures regarding discrimination and training programs to minimize the risk of any employment decisions based on protected characteristics. 

Please feel free to contact any of our attorneys if you have questions about the Supreme Court’s decision or if you would like our assistance in developing employment policies and procedures.

NOTICE: Material provided on this website has been prepared by Kauff McGuire & Margolis LLP solely for general informational purposes, and it is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice. Material provided on the website is not privileged and does not create an attorney-client relationship with the Firm or any of its lawyers.