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Tampa Personal Injury Lawyers / Blog / Employment Law / US SCOTUS Upholds Decision That Lateral Transfer is an Adverse Employment Action Under Title VII

US SCOTUS Upholds Decision That Lateral Transfer is an Adverse Employment Action Under Title VII


Generally speaking, an employee filing a discrimination lawsuit must be able to establish that they suffered an adverse employment action in order to file a lawsuit against their employer. Traditionally, adverse employment actions have included demotions and firings. However, one case, Muldrow v. The City of St. Louis, involved an employee who was transferred to another department based on a protected characteristic.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that a lateral transfer of an employee to a position with similar rank and pay can be an “adverse employment action” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This remains true even if the employee cannot show that the transfer caused a “materially significant disadvantage.”

Background of the case 

The plaintiff worked as a plainclothes police officer in the St. Louis Police Department’s Intelligence Division. According to the lawsuit, a new commander took over the Intelligence Division and asked that the plaintiff be transferred out of her unit and replaced with a male officer. The department transferred the plaintiff to a uniformed job with the Department. The plaintiff attempted to fight the transfer, but she was unable to stop it.

The plaintiff sued the department alleging discrimination based on her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on her transfer to a lesser position. In this case, the plaintiff’s rank and pay remained the same, although, “her responsibilities, perks, and schedule did not.” According to the plaintiff:

“I went from straight days, weekends off with a take-home car and more visibility and responsibility with the department to a rotating schedule with few weekends off, assigned to … uniformed patrol,” with “responsibilities being limited to that of administrative work” and “supervising officers on patrol.”

The court’s decision 

In this case, the lower courts ruled that the plaintiff’s Title VII claim failed because she could not establish that her transfer caused a “material significant disadvantage” due to the fact that her rank and pay remained the same.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed and held that “although 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 significant test. Title VII’s text nowhere establishes that high bar.”

Analyzing the decision 

The Supreme Court’s decision, which will set a precedent across the country, means that employees are not required to establish that the negative impact of a transfer meets any specific standard. In this case, the lower courts used the standard of a “materially significant disadvantage.” In other words, the lower courts ruled that the plaintiff had to show that it either cost her money or rank to pursue a claim under Title VII. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that no such test existed and the plaintiff did face some significant disadvantages even though she was neither demoted nor did the transfer cost her any money.

In other words, an employee can now prevail on a Title VII claim so long as they can show that the forced transfer was discriminatory and caused some harm. The harm need not be “significant.”

Talk to a Tampa, FL Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today 

Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC represents the interests of employees who have faced discrimination in the workplace. Call our Tampa employment lawyers today to schedule a free consultation, and we can begin discussing your case right away.



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