On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split by holding that while an employee challenging an allegedly discriminatory job transfer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must show that the transfer caused some identifiable disadvantage, the disadvantage need not be significant.

The allegations underlying the Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri opinion involved Jatonya Muldrow, a female police sergeant who, after working on high-profile matters in the specialized Intelligence Division of the St. Louis Police Department for several years, was transferred against her wishes to a uniformed job supervising the day-to-day activities of neighborhood patrol officers. Although her rank and pay remained the same in the new position, her duties, perks and work schedule changed. Muldrow filed suit against the City, alleging that she had suffered sex discrimination because of the involuntary transfer due to her supervisor wanting to hire a male for her job.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, holding that Muldrow could not meet a heightened injury standard of showing that her job transfer resulted in a “significant” change in working conditions producing “material employment disadvantage” in order to establish an adverse employment action under Title VII. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court, however, vacated and remanded in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Kagan, holding that “[a]lthough 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 concluded that the text of Title VII “nowhere establishes that high bar,” and to demand “significance” would be to add words to the statute created by Congress. Justices Alito, Thomas and Kavanaugh authored concurring opinions.

Following this decision, employers should exercise extra caution when transferring employees to different jobs. Moreover, although the Muldrow case concerned a job transfer, there is no indication that the Court’s reasoning is limited to such context; thus, it remains to be seen whether employees will begin challenging other employment actions that do not rise to the level of material adverse changes in employment terms and conditions.

The attorneys at Murtha Cullina will continue to monitor the effects of this decision, and are ready to advise on this and other Title VII issues.

Please feel free to reach out to Murtha Cullina’s Labor and Employment group if you have any questions.