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Supreme Court Eases Pathway for Title VII Job Transfer Lawsuits

Our Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Help Workers Enforce Their Rights

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision makes it easier for workers to sue employers for discrimination when transferred against their will. The issue was whether an employee could sue for gender discrimination related to a lateral transfer without demonstrating that the transfer had caused “materially significant” harm.

In the case before the Court, Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, police sergeant Jatonya Muldrow brought a gender discrimination suit against the police department, claiming she was laterally transferred against her will into a different division because new leadership wanted to hire a man into her current role.

Muldrow was initially assigned to the Intelligence Division in a position that allowed her to work weekdays, wear plain clothes, and participate in an FBI task force with access to an unmarked vehicle. She was transferred to an administrative and less prestigious role in the Fifth District with basic entry-level work. Though she retained her base pay, she was required to wear a uniform, work weekends, and was stripped of her FBI credentials.

Muldrow sued the city under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination in the workplace, citing that the transfer constituted an adverse employment action. Under Title VII, employers are barred from discriminating against employees based on sex/gender, race, color, national origin, and religion.

The district court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the police department, stating that, under Title VII, Muldrow was required to demonstrate that the adverse action caused her “significant material” harm. Both courts noted that her salary and rank remained unchanged, her new supervisory role required participation in important investigations, and the transfer did not harm any future career prospects. 

The high court disagreed, stating that an employer’s decision to laterally transfer an employee with no change in pay or benefits may violate Title VII if the transfer is based on discriminatory reasons, such as transferring a female officer to a male officer. The court further ruled that, under Title VII, the transferred employee only needs to demonstrate some harm, not significant. The justices noted that transfers are generally not forced when the move is more beneficial to the employee.

The ruling does not mean all mandatory lateral transfers are considered adverse actions. Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “To make out a Title VII discrimination claim, a transferee must show some harm respecting an identifiable term or condition of employment. What the transferee does not have to show is that the harm incurred was ‘significant’ or otherwise exceeded some heightened bar.”

Our Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Help Workers Enforce Their Rights

If you believe your employer is violating your rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is crucial to take action. Contact our experienced Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. By seeking legal assistance, you can empower yourself and protect your rights. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including South Jersey.