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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

How Courts Raise The Bar & Impose Heightened Requirements On Employment Discrimination Victims

The concept of racial discrimination in employment and promotion. Miniature people.

Having represented employees for more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida know that employers have used employer-friendly courts to create a substantial body of law that limits the protection afforded to employees from employment discrimination law. In adopting the narrow interpretations of employment discrimination law advocated by employers, employer-friendly courts have imposed heightened requirements on employment discrimination victims that can only be satisfied in exceptional circumstances. In imposing heightened requirements that few employment discrimination victims can satisfy, employer-friendly courts have ensured that employment discrimination law as applied demands far more of employment discrimination victims than employment discrimination law as written.

Because employer-friendly courts have imposed heightened requirements on employment discrimination victims that are inconsistent with the letter and spirt of employment discrimination law, Congressional intervention is often necessary to protect employment discrimination victims. For example, Congress amended the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by enacting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 in response to a long line of federal court decisions interpreting the ADA in a manner that made it extraordinarily difficult for employees to prove they had a disability. According to Congress, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was passed “to carry out the ADA’s objectives of providing a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination by reinstating a broad scope of protection to be available under the ADA.” Consequently, in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Congress amended the definition of disability to broaden the ADA’s protection and ensure more employees are covered by the ADA.

Sometimes U.S. Supreme Court intervention is also necessary for employment discrimination victims to secure the protection guaranteed by the letter and spirit of employment discrimination law. In this article, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the Supreme Court’s recent decision Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, 2024 WL 1642826 (U.S. April 17, 2024) is an example of such Supreme Court intervention.

Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

In that case, a woman named Muldrow brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her employer, the St. Louis Police Department (the “Department”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex. Muldrow maintains that the Department violated Title VII by transferring her from one job to another because she is a woman.

From 2009 through 2017, Muldrow held the title of Sargeant and worked as a plainclothes officer in the St. Louis Police Department’s specialized Intelligence Division. During her tenure there, Muldrow investigated public corruption and human trafficking. By virtue of her Intelligence Division position, Muldrow was also deputized as a Task Force Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation—a status granting her, among other things, FBI credentials, an unmarked take-home vehicle, and the authority to pursue investigations outside St. Louis. In 2017, the outgoing commander of the Intelligence Division told her newly appointed successor that Muldrow was a “workhorse.”

But the new Intelligence Division commander, Deeba, instead asked the Department to transfer Muldrow out of his unit. Deeba allegedly wanted to replace Muldrow—whom he sometimes called “Mrs.” rather than the customary “Sargeant”—with a male police officer. The Department approved the transfer against Muldrow’s wishes. The Department reassigned her to a uniformed job in the Department’s Fifth District.

While Muldrow’s rank and pay remained the same in the new position, her responsibilities, perks, and schedule did not. Instead of working with high-ranking officials on the departmental priorities lodged in the Intelligence Division, Muldrow now supervised the day-to-day activities of neighborhood patrol officers. Her new duties included approving their arrests, reviewing their reports, and handling other administrative matters; she also did some patrol work herself. Because she no longer served in the Intelligence Division, she lost her FBI status and the car that came with it. And the change of jobs made Muldrow’s workweek less regular. She had worked a traditional Monday-through-Friday week in the Intelligence Division. Now she was placed on a “rotating schedule” that often involved weekend shifts.

Lower Courts Raise The Bar

The trial court dismissed Muldrow’s discriminatory transfer claim. In doing so, the trial court ruled that Muldrow had to show that her transfer effected a “significant” change in working conditions producing “material employment disadvantage.” In applying this standard, the trial court concluded that Muldrow could not meet that heightened-injury standard because she “experienced no change in salary or rank.”

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. The appellate court agreed that Muldrow had to show—but could not—that the transfer caused a “materially significant disadvantage.” Like the trial court, the Eighth Circuit emphasized that the transfer “did not result in a diminution to her title, salary, or benefits.” And the court of appeals also maintained that the change in her job responsibilities was “insufficient” to support a Title VII discriminatory transfer claim. Overall, the Eighth Circuit held that Muldrow’s claim could not proceed because she had experienced “only minor changes in working conditions.”

Supreme Court Intervention

On appeal before the Supreme Court, the threshold issue was whether an “employee challenging a transfer under Title VII must meet a heightened threshold of harm—be it dubbed significant, serious, or something similar.” In reversing the Eighth Circuit and reinstating Muldrow’s discriminatory transfer claim, the Supreme Court held that “although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, [the employee] need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test.” “Title VII’s text,” the Court determined, “nowhere establishes that high bar.”

In support of its holding, the Court observed that Title VII’s statutory language prohibits discriminating against an employee “with respect to the terms or conditions of employment” because of that employee’s sex. “That language,” the Court explained, “requires Muldrow to show that the transfer brought about some ‘disadvantageous’ change in an employment term or condition.” Under its precedent, the Court pointed out, the “terms or conditions” of employment “is not used in the narrow contractual sense; it covers more than the economic or tangible.” Thus, the Court ruled that to make out of Title VII discriminatory transfer claim, an employee “must show some harm respecting an identifiable term or condition of employment.”

The Court further ruled that an employee claiming a discriminatory transfer “does not have to show [ ] that the harm incurred was ‘significant,’ ” or “serious, or substantial, or any similar adjective suggesting that the disadvantage to the employee must exceed a heightened bar.” In support of its ruling, the Court explained that there is “nothing” in the text of Title VII to “establish an elevated threshold of harm.” “To demand ‘significance’ is to add words—and significant words, as it were—to the statute that Congress enacted.” In other words, the Court explained, to demand “significance” 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.”

Courts Harm Employees By Rewriting Title VII

The Court further explained that imposing a heighted requirement of showing that the transfer caused a “significant” employment disadvantage “can make a real difference for complaining transferees.” “Many forced transfers,” the Court pointed out, “leave workers worse off respecting employment terms or conditions.” “After all,” the Court noted, “a transfer is not usually forced when it leaves the employee better off.”

In refusing to impose a heightened requirement of showing that the transfer caused a “significant” employment disadvantage, the Court also observed that, as a string of appellate decisions applying that standard revealed, the answers to whether a transfer caused a “significant” employment disadvantage “can lie in the eye of the beholder—and can disregard varied kinds of disadvantage.” In support of that conclusion, the Court pointed out that in a string of appellate decisions applying a “significant” employment disadvantage standard, all the employees “suffered some injury in employment terms or conditions,” but their discriminatory transfer claims were nonetheless “rejected solely because the courts rewrote Title VII, compelling workers to make a showing that the statutory text does not require.”

In applying these principles, the Court determined that the Eighth Circuit’s “treatment of Muldrow’s suit cannot survive” because the appellate court required Muldrow to show that the “allegedly discriminatory transfer out of the Intelligence Division produced a significant employment disadvantage.” “That standard,” the Court explained, “is the wrong standard.” Instead, “Muldrow need only show some injury respect her employment terms or conditions.” “That transfer must have left her worse off,” the Court pointed out, “but need not have left her significantly so.”

Citrus County Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination attorneys in Cirus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have been discriminated against at work or have questions about your protection from employment discrimination, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Cirus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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