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Forced Lateral Job Transfers Can Potentially Support Discrimination Claims

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According to a new SCOTUS decision, an employer’s decision to transfer an employee to a lateral job without affecting their pay may violate federal civil rights laws.

Here’s what you need to know.

Overview of Case

In the recent Muldrow case, a female police sergeant claimed there was sex discrimination when she was transferred to a lateral position when new leadership wanted to rehire a man for her role. 

Under Title VII, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. However, in the Muldrow case, the lines of whether or not it was unlawful become blurry because of alleged discrimination. This is because the transfer didn’t show any significant disadvantages.

Despite this, Muldrow still alleged the transfer could sustain a Title VII claim because her new job in Fifth District work was less prestigious than that of the Intelligence Division, where she was before. However, the district court and 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the police department because Muldrow’s pay and rank stayed the same, so Title VII wasn’t applicable here.

Still, other appellate courts have found that forced lateral transfers can be harmful.

When Are Title VII Discrimination Cases Applicable?

The SCOTUS says that for cases to make a relevant claim, employees must show some harm. However, this “harm” doesn’t have to be significant. It just has to be something beyond simply being transferred for allegedly discriminatory reasons.

What Employers Should Do

If anything, this case is a reminder for employers that all workplace policies and practices must align with federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. Thus, there are a few steps employers should take.

First, all HR policies must be reviewed to ensure they comply with EEO laws. Secondly, EEO training should be updated for all managers and supervisors. And thirdly, stay up-to-date and informed on all court decisions that could impact workplace compliance.