U.S. Supreme Court Confirms that a Job Transfer Could be Sufficient Adverse Action to Commence a Discrimination Lawsuit by the Transferred Employee

Recently, the United States Supreme Court clarified the standard under which a plaintiff can proceed with a claim for a discriminatory job transfer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), holding that a plaintiff need only show that the job transfer brought about “some” harm with respect to a term or condition of employment. That harm, however, need not be significant in order for the lawsuit to proceed.   

In the case at issue before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff, Sergeant Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, worked as a plainclothes officer in the Intelligence Division of the St. Louis Police Department from 2008 through 2017 until she was reassigned to a uniformed job elsewhere in the Department and replaced with a male officer. Although Muldrow’s rank and pay remained the same, her responsibilities, perks, and schedule did not. Muldrow no longer worked with the high-ranking officials in the Department’s Intelligence Division—instead supervising the day-to-day activities of neighborhood patrol officers—and she lost access to an unmarked take-home vehicle and had a less regular schedule involving weekend shifts. Muldrow brought suit under Title VII, challenging the transfer as a discriminatory action based on her sex.

The Supreme Court held that, to make out a Title VII discrimination claim, a transferee must show some harm with respect to an identifiable term or condition of employment, but what the transferee does not have to show is that the harm incurred was “significant” or otherwise exceeded some heightened bar.

The Court’s ruling reaffirms that job transfers that – even arguably – lower the terms and conditions of an employee’s work environment (as subjective as that standard may be) could be the basis of a discrimination claim.  Employers making employment decisions should always be mindful that it’s not just termination but other employment actions that expose them to an employment lawsuit as well.