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Horton Law Firm Blog U.S. Supreme Court: Lateral Job Transfers Can Be Discriminatory

 | U.S. Supreme Court: Lateral Job Transfers Can Be Discriminatory

We now have some clearer guidance on whether lateral job transfers trigger a legal claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. I blogged about this case back in January 2024, when we were still waiting on a decision from the Court. Well, now we have to wait no longer.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Decision in Muldrow v. St. Louis Regarding Lateral Job Transfers

On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court finally issued a ruling on Muldrow v. St. Louis. In that case, Sergeant Jatonya Muldrow claimed that the St. Louis Police Department transferred her from one job to another within the department so that she could be replaced by a man. Her rank and pay remained the same, but her responsibilities, perks, and schedule did not. The lower courts both ruled against Muldrow, holding that since her pay and rank didn’t change, she hadn’t suffered a materially significant disadvantage.

The Supreme Court disagreed, holding the employee must merely show that the lateral job transfers brought about some harm with respect to an identifiable term or condition of employment, but that the harm need not be significant. Title VII, the Court notes, makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.” That means that Muldrow had to show that the transfer brought about some “disadvantageous” change in an employment term or condition. The Court held that requiring an employee to prove a “materially significant disadvantage,” as the lower courts had required, placed a new burden on the employee that Title VII did not actually contain. 

Ultimately, the Supreme Court reinstated Muldrow’s claim and sent it back down to the trial court for a new evaluation of the claim under this clarified legal standard. This does not mean that Muldrow wins, of course, but she has a better chance to get her claims in front of a federal jury. 

What Does This Mean for South Carolina Employees?

Will this impact claims for South Carolina employees? Sure does! Moving forward, employees will have a little easier time in bringing and proving claims for adverse employment actions, to include lateral job transfers and other types of harm, such as a failure to reinstate. The decision won’t be limited just to lateral job transfers. For example, I’m aware of at least one other federal case in the Upstate of South Carolina that has already been reconsidered in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding, resulting in a claim previously dismissed being revived and prepared for trial. Certainly as I evaluate cases from potential clients, I’ll be able to apply the new standard to potential adverse actions on a broader basis. 

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