Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

Sergeant Muldrow, initially assigned to the Intelligence Division where she worked on various high-profile cases and was deputized by the FBI, was transferred to the Fifth District by Interim Police Commissioner Lawrence O'Toole's appointee, Captain Deeba. This change led to a different work schedule, responsibilities, and loss of special FBI-related privileges including a potential $17,500 in annual overtime pay. After her transfer, Sergeant Muldrow was asked to return FBI-issued equipment, which she did, and her Task Force Officer status was revoked. She filed a discrimination charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights against the City of St. Louis and Captain Deeba, later filing an action in Missouri state court alleging Title VII violations.

The case was removed to federal court, where the district court granted summary judgment against her Title VII claims and dismissed her state law claims. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the employment decisions she alleged did not constitute “adverse employment action” and thus did not establish a prima facie case of gender discrimination under Title VII, nor were they “materially adverse action” as required for a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII.


  1. Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination in transfer decisions absent a separate court determination that the transfer decision caused a signification disadvantage?


  1. An employee challenging a job transfer under Title VII must show that the transfer brought about some harm with respect to an identifiable term or condition of employment, but that harm need not be significant. Although the judgment vacating and remanding the case was unanimous, Justice Elena Kagan authored the majority opinion of the Court, which was joined by five other Justices.

    Nothing in Title VII’s text requires a transferred employee to show that the harm they suffered was “significant.” Rather, as long as the transfer left the employee worse off in some way with respect to their employment terms or conditions, and was made because of a protected characteristic like sex or race, it violates Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination. There is no basis for reading a heightened “significant harm” standard into the statute. Title VII targets employment practices that treat a person worse because of a protected trait, without distinguishing between significant and less significant harms. While concerns about frivolous lawsuits are valid, courts have other ways to dismiss meritless claims without imposing an extra-textual "significant harm" requirement.

    Justice Clarence Thomas authored an opinion concurring in the judgment suggesting that the majority misinterpreted the opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, below. Justice Thomas argued that the appeals court’s language requiring “a tangible change in working conditions that produces a material employment disadvantage” is not a heightened-harm requirement.

    Justice Samuel Alito authored an opinion concurring in the judgment criticizing the majority for failing to clarify the degree of harm required under Title VII, arguing that there is “little if any substantive difference between the terminology the Court approves and the terminology it doesn’t like.”

    Justice Brett Kavanaugh authored an opinion concurring in the judgment, arguing that while he agrees with the majority in rejecting the “significant employment disadvantage” requirement, he disagrees with its new standard requiring “some harm.” Justice Kavanaugh provided an example of a situation that clearly violates Title VII but may not satisfy the majority’s “some harm” requirement: “We are transferring you to the Cincinnati office because you are black. But your compensation will not change.” Any transfer on a discriminatory basis—no matter how quantifiable the harm—should be a violation of Title VII.