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Muldrow Gives Illegal Discrimination Broad Sweep

By June 12, 2024No Comments

In a recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employee who was transferred even without a loss of pay or seniority because of her sex nonetheless may have experienced illegal discrimination. In Muldrow v. St. Louis, Sergeant Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow sued the City of St. Louis under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 for sex discrimination after being transferred from a police department’s intelligence division, where she had served a plainclothes officer, to a uniformed position.

While the female officer’s pay and rank remained the same after the transfer, the new assignment was less prestigious, made her workweek less regular, and resulted in her losing access to a take-home vehicle she had while serving in the intelligence division.

The Supreme Court determined that losses of a regular Monday through Friday schedule and access to a take-home vehicle constituted worse treatment in the terms and conditions of the officer’s employment due to her sex even though the transfer had not resulted in a decrease in pay or in rank. “‘Discriminate against’ means treat worse, here based on sex,” Justice Kagan wrote for the Court. To demand that harm be “significant,” the Court wrote, “is to impose a new requirement on a Title VII claimant, so that the law as applied demands something more of her than the law as written.”

“Muldrow need show only some injury respecting her employment terms or conditions,” the Court held. “The transfer must have left her worse off, but need not have left her significantly so.”

The Muldrow case mirrors the reasoning Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case, Yee v. Massachusetts State Police, from 2019 in which the Court held that an employment action is sufficiently adverse under the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination law, G.L. c. 151B, when a reasonable person in the employee’s position would find that the action posed a material disadvantage.