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Supreme Court Lowers Bar for Discrimination Suits Over Job Transfers

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that makes it easier for workers to sue employers for discrimination if they’re forced to transfer jobs within their organization. While employees challenging a lateral transfer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act must still show that the discriminatory decision caused them harm, the harm does not need to be significant, according to the ruling.  

The case was brought to the court by a police sergeant in St. Louis, who claimed that the St. Louis Police Department transferred her from one department to another because she is a woman. From 2008 through 2017, the sergeant worked in the department’s specialized intelligence division. In 2017, a new commander in the division asked to transfer the sergeant out of the unit so that she could be replaced with a male police officer, according to the ruling. Against her wishes, she was reassigned to another department.  

While her rank and pay remained the same, her responsibilities, perks, and schedule were changed. To challenge the transfer, she made a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her sex with regards to the terms and conditions of her employment.  

“Although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, she need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test,” Justice Elena Kagan writes in the Court’s unanimous opinion. “Title VII’s text nowhere establishes that high bar.”  

The Supreme Court’s decision has major implications for HR leaders across the country, as employees now have a lower bar for the harm they must prove to prevail in a discrimination suit against their employer.  

The full decision, including concurring opinions from Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas, can be found here.  

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