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Supreme Court Eases Criteria for Job Transfer Discrimination Claims

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the standards for workers pursuing employment discrimination lawsuits concerning job transfers, addressing ongoing discrepancies in lower court rulings. The Supreme Court decreed that while an employee must prove some level of harm to sue for discrimination based on sex, race, religion, or national origin, the harm does not need to be “significant” or “material.”

The decision stemmed from a case involving Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, a former police sergeant who alleged discrimination after being transferred within the St. Louis Police Department. Muldrow, who had received high performance evaluations, argued that her reassignment from a plainclothes position in the Intelligence Division to a uniformed role in the Fifth District was due to gender discrimination. She claimed that the move, which forced her to relinquish her FBI task force status and adopt less favorable working hours, significantly altered her job conditions despite maintaining the same pay and rank.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously upheld the dismissal of Muldrow’s lawsuit, ruling that her inability to demonstrate a reduction in title, salary, or benefits meant the discrimination claims were not substantial enough to proceed. However, the Supreme Court reversed this decision, setting a precedent that lowered the threshold for proving harm in discrimination cases related to job transfers.

In a unanimous decision, although with varying rationale, Justice Elena Kagan emphasized that federal employment discrimination law extends beyond mere economic disparities. It also covers discrimination against the “terms” and “conditions” of employment, which, in Muldrow’s case, included significant changes to her work responsibilities and schedule.

The Supreme Court criticized the need for showing “significant” or “material” harm as too stringent, clarifying that the law aims to protect against practices that adversely treat individuals based on protected characteristics. This landmark ruling is expected to influence how lower courts assess claims of job transfer discrimination, potentially making it easier for employees to challenge subtle forms of discriminatory practices.

Read the full Supreme Court decision here.

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