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Rare unanimous Supreme Court ruling is good news for employees

It’s unusual to see the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agree on anything. However, they recently issued a unanimous ruling in a discrimination claim that could benefit employees around the country.

Courts have traditionally required those who file claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to show that the discrimination they suffered because of a protected attribute caused some kind of adverse action. This could include a demotion, termination or (if they were an applicant) not being hired.

Title VII applies to all private employers who have at least 15 employees. They’re prohibited from discriminating in “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” based on a person’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

What was the case before the court about?

A lower court had ruled in a plaintiff’s case that the alleged discrimination based on her gender didn’t result in a “materially significant disadvantage,” so it dismissed the case. The female police sergeant sued her department because she was replaced by a male and transferred. Although neither her rank nor her compensation were lowered, she argued that her new job has fewer responsibilities and less status.

The Supreme Court determined said in its ruling that Title VII says nothing about “significant” harm, and that it’s enough for an employee to show that they’ve suffered some harm related to “an identifiable term or condition of employment.”

The plaintiff can now resume her original claim. She still needs to prove that the reassignment was based on discrimination, but she no longer has to show significant harm. This ruling applies not just to this case but to all Title VII discrimination claims.

There’s a lot to know about state and federal employment discrimination laws. If you believe you have a claim, a good first step is to get experienced legal guidance.