Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, a case that asked the Court to decide what level of harm an employee must show when challenging a transfer under Title VII. Recognizing that no heightened-harm requirement appears in Title VII’s text, the Court ruled that a discriminatory transfer claim requires the employee to show some harm but does not require the employee to show that the harm was significant.

What You Need to Know

  • Question presented in this case: Whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in transfer decisions absent a separate court determination that the transfer decision caused a significant disadvantage to the employee.
  • What does Title VII say? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
  • Background: Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, a sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, was working in the Department’s Intelligence Division when she was transferred against her wishes to the Department’s Fifth District, where her rank and pay remained the same. However, Muldrow alleged that other aspects of her job changed after her transfer, including her job responsibilities, perks, and work schedule. She sued the City of St. Louis (City), alleging that it violated Title VII by transferring her out of the Intelligence Division because of her sex. The federal district court granted the City summary judgment as to Muldrow’s Title VII discriminatory transfer claim, explaining that Muldrow failed to show that her transfer caused a “significant” change that produced a “material employment disadvantage.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that Muldrow failed to show that the transfer caused her to suffer a “materially significant disadvantage.”
  • What did the Court decide? The Court held that a Title VII discriminatory transfer claim requires an employee to show that the transfer brought about “some harm respecting an identifiable term or condition of employment.” However, the transferee need not show that the harm was “significant,” “serious,” or “substantial.” The Court explained that imposing a heightened-harm requirement would be to add words to Title VII’s text. The Court accordingly vacated the judgment of the Eighth Circuit and remanded the case.
  • Take away? In a footnote, the majority made clear that “this decision changes the legal standard used in any circuit that has previously required ‘significant,’ ‘material,’ or ‘serious’ injury” and “lowers the bar Title VII plaintiffs must meet.” The Court’s decision will increase employees’ access to justice and strengthen protections against workplace discrimination.