Employer Alert: New U.S. Supreme Court Decision Loosens Criteria for Employee Discrimination Lawsuits

By Leni Plimpton

On Wednesday, April 17, 2024, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that an employee alleging discrimination must only show that the alleged discriminatory act caused “some harm” but does not need to prove that the harm was significant. In Muldrow v. St. Louis, a police officer alleged that she suffered discrimination on the basis of her sex when she was transferred to a position that had less prestigious job duties, fewer perks, and a less regular schedule. The district court dismissed her claim, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the job transfer could not support a discrimination claim because it did not diminish her title, salary, or benefits and had caused only “minor changes” to her working conditions. 

However, the Supreme Court disagreed, holding instead that an employee challenging a job transfer under Title VII must show only that the transfer brought about “some harm” with respect to the terms and conditions of the employment, but the harm does not have to be “significant.” This holding reversed precedent in numerous Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Tenth Circuit.

Given this change, employers should note the more relaxed standard for an employee to make a claim of discrimination. Employers are likely to see an increase in litigation numbers, as well as litigation costs and expenses because it is now easier for employees to claim discrimination even when they suffered only minor harm from a given employment action. Under the new standard, it will be harder for employers to prevail on summary judgment.

If you are facing a claim of discrimination or are considering taking disciplinary action against an employee, evaluate all of the possible risks involved. If you have any concerns or questions, reach out to an experienced employment litigator at Fortis.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. Do not make legal decisions based on information you find on the Internet; instead, seek out a licensed attorney to obtain legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed between the author of this piece and the reader.

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Lenora Plimpton

Lenora Plimpton

Lenora (Leni) specializes in employment and commercial litigation. She has experience with a wide range of employment and labor matters, including claims of age, race, and sex discrimination; disability discrimination; EEOC and CCRD charges of discrimination; mediations; arbitrations; and unemployment insurance audits.

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