Supreme Court Rules ‘Significant Harm’ Not Necessary to Prove Job-Transfer Discrimination

By Dean Harris posted 04-19-2024 01:26 PM


On April 17, 2024, in the case of Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that an employee asserting a discriminatory transfer does not need to show that the transfer resulted in significant, serious, substantial, or any heightened level of harm to prove discrimination.

Jatonya Muldrow alleged in her lawsuit that the St. Louis Police Department discriminatorily transferred her out of a task force in the intelligence division to a patrol supervision position because of her gender. Muldrow did not suffer a reduction in pay, rank, or other significant term or condition of employment. The federal court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that her transfer, even if it were because of her gender, was not an adverse employment action because the transfer did not significantly disadvantage Muldrow.

The Supreme Court disagreed and held that a transfer that caused the employee “some harm” to the terms and conditions of their employment is sufficient to prove discrimination. While the Court reached a unanimous decision that “significant harm” was too high a standard, the Court issued multiple concurring opinions on how to define and measure the correct standard of harm.

This case narrowly addresses transfers. But will it open the door to a lower bar for proving discrimination? Most discrimination laws require that an employment action must result in some adverse action to constitute discrimination but do not address the petty slights and minor annoyances and inconveniences common to workplaces.

For more background on the case, read this recent Employers Council article.

Employers Council provides members with extensive guidance on making sound, defensible workplace decisions and offers training on preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Contact us for assistance or more information.