Supreme Court May Permit Discrimination Lawsuits for Forced Work Transfers

Can you file a discrimination lawsuit if your employer forces you to transfer positions? The Supreme Court may permit such lawsuits to proceed. Sergeant Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow was a sergeant with the St. Louis Police Department. From 2008 through 2017, she worked in the Department’s Intelligence Division on public-corruption and human-trafficking cases, headed the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit and, at one time, oversaw the Gang Unit.

In 2017, Muldrow was suddenly transferred Intelligence Division to the Department’s Fifth District. Her transfer was announced by Department email without any input from Muldrow. Muldrow was the only transfer announced and she was replaced with a male sergeant. Muldrow was allegedly transferred because her supervisor believed the role was too dangerous even though Muldrow had been doing the job for almost nine years.

Muldrow’s base pay remained the same, but other work conditions changed significantly. Muldrow’s schedule changed from five days a week to a rotating shift that included weekends. Muldrow was reassigned from investigating human trafficking cases to routine police work including patrolling. Muldrow was also relocated from police headquarters to the outskirts of the 5th District. Muldrow was also permitted to wear plain clothes while at police headquarters, but had to wear a uniform at all times while in the 5th District.

Muldrow’s prior position also permitted her to work with the FBI as a Task Force Officer, but her new position had no such opportunities. The loss of the FBI Task Force Role reduced her overtime pay, forcing her to take on a second job to get her income back to where it was before. Muldrow’s transfer requests to other positions within the Department were denied.

Muldrow filed suit against the City of Saint Louis in 2017. The City claims that Muldrow was one of officers, two male and two female, who were assigned from Intelligence to other units based on need. None of the officers were notified ahead of time and all officers were notified by email about their new orders.

The trial court and 8th Circuit dismissed her case, holding that Muldrow had not suffered a “materially significant disadvantage” from the transfer. In other words, Muldrow’s base salary, title, and benefits were the same, so the transfer had not caused Muldrow any material loss despite the alleged discrimination.

The Advantages of a Job Include More Than Benefits and Title

The Supreme Court seems poised to remove, or at least narrow, the requirement for discrimination lawsuits that the employee must suffer a tangible harm because of the discrimination. Currently, employees must show that there must be a “significant, material, objective harm.” The justices seem willing to take up Muldrow’s position that “the injury is the discrimination itself.” The tangible harm requirement previously fulfilled when the employee was terminated, demoted, or suffered a pay cut. However, Muldrow’s case is that there is more to a job than just a salary, a job title, and benefits like healthcare. Seemingly small things like a schedule change or uniform change can be disruptive to an employee. Work environment is especially important as working from home becomes an increasing benefit for many office workers.

However, the case raises the question as to whether any forced transfer could be considered discriminatory. The key to discrimination cases though, is that a decision has to be made on illegal discrimination. If Muldrow was transferred because of need rather than her sex or gender, as the City alleges, then Muldrow’s case will fail even if the Supreme Court returns the case back to the lower court.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with My Sex Discrimination Claims?

It is generally difficult to pursue a gender or sex discrimination claim against an employer without the help of a discrimination lawyer. Specific requirements must be met in order to prove the employer’s intention to discriminate and these procedures can be quite confusing without an attorney. If you are an employer who is being sued for gender or sex discrimination, it may be in your best interest to hire a skilled discrimination lawyer.

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