Supreme Court Update: Muldrow v. St. Louis

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Supreme Court Update:  Muldrow v. St. Louis


In a season of acute workforce shortages, the ability to make lateral transfers without fear of legal action is an important tool for county governments to ensure we have appropriate staffing to meet our various responsibilities for safeguarding the safety, health and wellbeing of our residents.


In this case, an employee alleged that her lateral transfer within the St. Louis Police Department was motivated by gender bias and constituted discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, the transfer did not impact her pay or title. In its ruling, the Court will likely resolve a circuit split over the question of whether lateral employment transfers constitute an adverse employment action or if tangible harm must be evident.

Local governments are collectively among the largest employers in the country and regularly transfer employees laterally as a matter of operational necessity, to provide training, to fill critical service needs, to accommodate an employee’s religious or disability needs, to investigate a claim of harassment, and to address staffing shortages. A ruling allowing all lateral transfers, regardless of associated material harm, to qualify as actionable adverse employment actions could profoundly impede the ability of local governments to assign police, fire, and EMS personnel where they are most needed.


On April 17, the Court issued a 6-3 decision vacating the lower court's ruling against the petitioner and creating a new standard under Title VII for lawsuits related to forced employee transfers. An employee must demonstrate "some harm" in a forced transfer suit, which is a lower threshold than the "material" or "significant" harm adopted by many lower courts. However, the Court did not go so far as to adopt the Petitioner’s proposed rule that any transfer, regardless of harm would be actionable under Title VII if based on a protected characteristic. Learn more here.


Read the Local Government Legal Center amicus brief submitted in support of the respondents.