by M. Tyler Reynolds, Esq and Timothy B. George, Jr., Esq.

Employers should be aware of the impact of the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision, which has eased the requirements necessary for an employee to assert a Title VII discrimination claim. This article addresses the Court’s opinion rendered in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, et al. and is intended to provide a beneficial analysis for those employers who may be subject to Title VII discrimination claims.

The United States Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, et al. held that an employee challenging an adverse action under Title VII discrimination claim must show that the action brought about some harm with respect to an identifiable term or condition of employment, but that harm need not be significant. The Muldrow decision eliminates the prior requirement imposed by most federal courts that an employee must show an employment action caused “substantial,” “material” or “significant” harm in order to maintain a Title VII discrimination claim.

In Muldrow, the Supreme Court considered the issue of whether a police officer’s transfer to a different position violated Tile VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the alleged basis of sex discrimination, even if the transfer did not “significantly” harm the police officer employee. Answering that issue in the affirmative, the Court found that transferring an employee to a position with similar responsibilities and pay is violative of Title VII if the transfer is discriminatory and causes “some harm.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion stated that the threshold for showing “some harm” is lower than “substantial harm” or “material adversity” standard previously relied upon by federal courts. However, there is some room for interpretation regarding the lower threshold.

For reference, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals previously adhered to the “materially adverse” standard when analyzing Title VII claims. See Rogers v. Henry Ford Health Sys., 897 F.3d 763, 775 (6th Cir. 2018). However, the United States Supreme Court in Muldrow found that reasoning does not apply to the anti-discrimination provision, which flatly “prevent[s] injury to individuals based on” protected status, id., at 63, without distinguishing between significant and less significant harms.

It is clear that more workplace actions will be asserted within the scope of Title VII and employers are cautioned to carefully document the reason for any employee transfer. This decision creates a new legal risk for employers to consider when making transfer decisions. In light of Muldrow, employers will be better positioned if evidence exists providing an explanation for any employee transfer to negate any allegation that an employee transfer was based on protected characteristics.

If you have any questions with respect to this decision, or claims of Civil Rights’ violations or employment practices liability, please contact one of Reminger’s Employment Practices/Civil Rights Defense Practice Group attorneys.

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