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April 17, 2024

Supreme Court Decides Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri

On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, No. 22-193, holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminatory job transfers that cause some harm with respect to an identifiable term or condition of employment, but the transferee need not show the harm was significant. 

This case involves what protections Title VII provides to employees who contend they were the victims of a discriminatory transfer. Jatonya Muldrow, a sergeant with the St. Louis Police Department, filed a lawsuit against the Department, alleging that she was the victim of sex discrimination because she was involuntarily transferred from her position in the Intelligence Division to a patrol position because her supervisor wanted to hire a man for her job. While Muldrow’s rank and pay remained the same in the new position, her responsibilities, perks, and schedule did not. The district court had granted the City summary judgment; and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed, holding that Muldrow had to — but did not — show that the transfer caused her a “materially significant disadvantage” because her transfer “did not result in a diminution to her title, salary, or benefits” and had caused “only minor changes in working conditions.”

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded in a unanimous decision, rejecting the heightened legal standard some appellate courts have imposed on Title VII claims to challenge discriminatory job transfers. Writing for the Court, Justice Kagan explained that the language of Title VII required Muldrow to show only that the transfer brought about some “disadvantageous” change in an employment term or condition based on sex. “Although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, she need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test,” the court held. “Title VII’s text nowhere establishes that high bar” and to demand “‘significance’ is to add words — and significant words, as it were — to the statute Congress enacted.” The Court affirmed that there would still need to be evidentiary support for the harm, and that its decision did not weigh the evidence or arguments in the case before it — just the standard to be applied. In its holding, the Court eased the pathway for more workplace-bias lawsuits based on transfers to proceed. 

Justice Kagan delivered the Opinion of the Court. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh each filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

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