Supreme Court Delivers Big Win for Workplace Equality in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis Ruling

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
April 17, 2024 12:00 pm

WASHINGTON — Today, the Supreme Court delivered a huge victory for workers and workplace equality. The court issued a ruling in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employers from discriminating in decisions like lateral transfers, without requiring employees to show that the discriminatory decision caused “significant” disadvantage.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Missouri, and the Constitutional Accountability Center filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiff Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, who claimed that her employer, the city of St. Louis, violated Title VII by transferring her to a new position and subsequently denying a transfer request because of her sex. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that it was not sufficient that the transfer decisions affected the “conditions” of her employment. Instead, Muldrow had to also establish that either her reassignment or her denied transfer request imposed “a material employment disadvantage.”

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is an enormous win for workers. Courts have too often dismissed cases under the ‘materially’ or ‘significantly’ adverse standard when employees have meritorious discrimination claims,” said Ming-Qi Chu, deputy director of ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “This heightened standard contradicts the statute’s text and undermines Congress’s plan of eliminating discrimination in employment in passing Title VII.”

“Today’s ruling strengthens the protections from discrimination intended by Title VII by solidifying workers’ right to have and experience consistent expectations on the privileges and conditions of their employment,” said Gillian Wilcox, deputy director for litigation at the ACLU of Missouri.

“Today’s decision rightly rejected the position that a Title VII plaintiff challenging a transfer must satisfy a heightened threshold of harm to bring her claim. As the Court recognized, ‘the text of Title VII imposes no such requirement.’ It’s an important reminder to lower courts that they should not add atextual requirements to the statute that constricts its scope,” said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Today’s decision is a win not only for Ms. Muldrow, but also for workers more broadly.”

The court’s decision comes in midst of a coordinated attempt by conservative advocacy groups trying to cast this ruling as a danger to workplace DEI trainings and initiatives.

“The fearmongering of DEI opponents has no basis in law and fundamentally misunderstands how most DEI programs work. The purpose of DEI and other remedial workplace programs is to improve the process by which employment decisions are made and close the gap in opportunities among workers. They do not disadvantage any particular worker. This is why they have long been held lawful. These scare-tactics are trying to chill employers’ commitment and investment in expanding workplace opportunity. We won’t let them,” added Ming-Qi Chu.

The amicus brief can be found online here:

The Supreme Court opinion can be found here:

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