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U.S. Supreme Court to decide St. Louis Police discrimination case

Gavel in a courtroom. Courts.
Ekaterina Bolovtsova
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments from a St. Louis police officer who argues that a transfer amounted to discrimination.

An attorney for a female St. Louis police sergeant whom the department replaced with a male officer told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday that the city discriminated against her.

Sgt. Latonya Clayborn Muldrow was assigned to the department’s Intelligence Division in 2017. She was later reassigned and replaced with a male officer who a police captain said could oversee the “very dangerous work” of street operations, according to court documents.

Muldrow filed suit claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex discrimination.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri sided with the city, ruling that Muldrow couldn’t prove that her reassignment produced a material employment disadvantage. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the ruling.

During oral arguments, Robert Loeb, the attorney for the city, told the justices that since Muldrow’s title, salary and hours didn’t change, she was not harmed by the action.

“That's not a high bar, but there needs to be something more than mere personal preferences and subjective sensitivities of the particular employee,” Loeb said.

Mudlow’s attorney, Brian Wolfman, told the justices that the transfer was discriminatory all by itself.

“Title VII bars an employer from discriminating against an employee with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of her employment because of the employee's sex. A lateral transfer changes the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,” Wolfman said. “That's sex discrimination, and it's unlawful.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is siding with Muldrow and presented its own arguments to the high court.

Aimee Brown, assistant to the solicitor general, said any employment change that is made solely on the basis of race or sex is discriminatory and harmful.

“When an employment decision is made on the basis of a protective characteristic that is the denial of equal treatment and that's a harm that this court has recognized in many cases,” Brown said.

The Supreme Court will issue its ruling later in its current session.

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.