SCOTUS Update: Major Title VII Changes Following Muldrow v. City of St. Louis that Every Employer Should Know

On April 17, 2024, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered the most highly anticipated employment opinion of the year. In Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, the Supreme Court lowered the bar for plaintiffs bringing employment discrimination actions against their employers by only requiring an employee to prove that “some harm” occurred as a result of an employment decision.

Prior to this decision, a plaintiff bringing a discrimination claim needed to meet a higher standard of “significant,” “material,” or “substantial” harm.

In Muldrow, a female police officer claimed that her employer, the St. Louis Police Department, discriminated against her based on her sex by transferring her to another department where she had different job responsibilities but the same rate of pay. The City of St. Louis argued that because the transfer was not a “significant” or “material” change, the female officer was unable to establish her claim.

Both the district court and the circuit court agreed with the City of St. Louis and granted summary judgment in favor of the city, effectively ending the female officer’s lawsuit.

The officer, Sergeant Muldrow, petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States and the highest court considered whether a plaintiff can establish a discrimination claim based on an employment transfer without proving the transfer decision caused significant harm. The Supreme Court unanimously held that a plaintiff need only demonstrate “some” harm occurred with regard to a term or condition of employment and specifically rejected that the harm must be “significant.”

This decision will have a sweeping impact on employment discrimination cases across the country.

It clearly lowers the bar for plaintiffs to establish actionable discrimination claims under Title VII which leaves employers vulnerable to a larger range of employment discrimination lawsuits. Historically, federal courts required that an employee’s damage from an “adverse employment action” must be measurable through wages, compensation, terms, conditions or other privileges. This requirement is now gone and employers must consider whether their decisions could simply result in “some” harmful impact upon an employee.

There will soon be new interpretations and analysis through litigation in the courts regarding the Muldrow decision but employers are advised to review their current employment policies and practices that may appear to have any impact an employee’s work conditions. It is advisable to consult with your employment attorney for further clarification and information.