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How a recent Supreme Court ruling affects Title VII claims

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | Employment Discrimination

There’s been a lot of drama around the U.S. Supreme Court recently, certain justices and some highly divisive rulings. However, a recent (and rare) unanimous ruling will make it a little easier for employees to prevail in discrimination claims.

The ruling addresses Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how much harm has to occur to an employee for them to successfully argue illegal discrimination under this federal law.

More about Title VII

All private employers in the U.S. with at least 15 employees are required to abide by Title VII. Among other things, that means they can’t discriminate based on a person’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” when it comes to “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

An employee who brings a legal action based on Title VII must show that they suffered an adverse workplace action such as demotion or termination. The law could also apply to applicants who weren’t hired because their identity is among the legally protected statuses.

The case before the court

The discrimination case that made it up to the Supreme Court involved a police sergeant who sued her employer after she was transferred from her position to another one and replaced by a man. She claimed that she was moved because of her gender.

The lower court that heard the case determined that even though her new job came with less status and fewer responsibilities, it didn’t put her at a “materially significant disadvantage” because she kept the same rank and salary.

The Supreme Court ruled, however, that Title VII doesn’t use the word “significant” in describing how much harm or how much of a disadvantage an employment action has to cause to bring a valid discrimination claim.

The ruling not only applies to this case, in which the plaintiff now must return to the lower court to prove that her reassignment was based on her gender (but without having to prove significant harm). This ruling applies to all Title VII discrimination claims.

While employment discrimination claims may seem obvious to those who have experienced workplace discrimination, they’re not always so simple in the eyes of the law. That’s why a good first step if you believe you’ve been a victim of such discrimination is to seek legal guidance.