You are currently viewing Muldrow v. St. Louis: An employee’s harm does not have to be “significant” to establish a Title VII discrimination claim.

Muldrow v. St. Louis: An employee’s harm does not have to be “significant” to establish a Title VII discrimination claim.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled on a sex discrimination lawsuit that lowered the standard for the type of harm an employee must show to bring a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.


After working in the St. Louis Police Department’s specialized Intelligence Division for nine years, Sergeant Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow was transferred and replaced from her position for being a woman.

During her tenure at the Department, Muldrow investigated public corruption and human trafficking cases, oversaw the Gang Unit, and served as head of the Gun Crimes Unit. The Department also deputized her as a Task Force Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Despite Muldrow’s qualifications and request to stay in the Division, the new Intelligence Division commander said that a male seemed a better fit for “the very dangerous” work required for her role.

Accordingly, Muldrow retained her rank and pay, but the Department reassigned her to a uniformed job in the Department’s Fifth District. Muldrow’s new role was more administrative, giving her less opportunity to work on important investigations and the responsibility of overseeing patrol officers. Mudrow’s schedule also became less regular, often requiring her to work weekends.

Muldrow subsequently sued the City of St. Louis under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court ruled against Muldrow, explaining that she needed to show that her transfer caused a “significant” change in working conditions, a standard she failed to meet. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the District Court’s decision, agreeing that “Muldrow had to—but could not—show that the transfer causes a “materially significant disadvantage.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1).

On April 17, 2023, the United State Supreme Court agreed to review Muldrow’s case to resolve the Circuit split over whether an employee challenging a transfer under Title VII must meet this heightened threshold of harm suggested by the lower courts. The Supreme Court found Title VII does not require an employee to show significant harm to bring a valid discrimination claim.

 The Court’s Reasoning

Pursuant to Congress’s passage of Title VII, it became unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

In this case, the Department’s transfer exhibited how Muldrow’s sex influenced the terms and conditions of her employment. Whenever a claim request relief based on the “terms and conditions” section of the statute, an employee must show that her transfer brought about some “disadvantageous” change in an employment term or condition. Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, No. 22-193, 2024 WL 1642826, at 5 (U.S. Apr. 17, 2024) (quoting Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U. S. 75, 80 (1998)). A disadvantageous change is discriminatory if it treats a person worse because of sex or another protected trait. Id. (citing Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U. S. 644, 658 (2020)). According to the decisions in Oncale and Bostock, the Court decided that Title VII simply required Muldrow to show “some injury” resulting from her employment terms or conditions. The Court also added, to demand a showing of “significance” would add words to the Statute that Congress enacted. Because the statute did not require an employee to show significant harm, the Court refused to require an employee to show significant harm in proving her claim.

Therefore, Muldrow only had to prove that the transfer was because she was a woman and that it left her worse off. Because it was undisputed that the Department transferred Muldrow for being a woman, she only had to prove the latter. As such, the Court found that the changed conditions of Muldrow’s employment sufficiently showed she was worse off, despite her rank and pay remaining the same. Harm was present when Muldrow moved from a plainclothes job in a prestigious specialized division to a uniformed job less involved with high-visibility matters.

Leave a Reply