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U.S. Supreme Court Case Could Affect Interpretation of Employment Discrimination Laws

Mar 14, 2024 | Written by: Sharon M. Flynn, Esq. |

When it comes to addressing discrimination in the workplace, understanding the intricacies of employment law is essential. In New Jersey, as in many parts of the United States, the burden of proof has long been a crucial factor in discrimination cases. However, recent legal proceedings, including a pending case out of Missouri before the U.S. Supreme Court, could potentially reshape how these laws are interpreted both in this State and nationwide.

Traditionally, New Jersey courts have required plaintiffs to demonstrate tangible harm resulting from discrimination, such as job loss, reduced wages, or loss of benefits. This standard, echoed in laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been a significant hurdle for many plaintiffs in cases where the harm may not be immediately apparent.

The pending Supreme Court case centers on a police sergeant's allegations of sex-based discrimination after she was transferred to a different position within her department and her request to transfer back to her former position was denied.  Despite maintaining her rank and pay rate, the plaintiff argued that the transfer constituted adverse employment action due to changes in her work schedule and limitations on her role.  At the heart of the legal debate is the interpretation of Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on sex among other protected categories.  While the statute outlines specific adverse actions, it also includes a broader provision prohibiting employers from discriminating in any other manner.

This case challenges the prevailing notion that discrimination claims must always be accompanied by tangible harm. Courts have traditionally relied on the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, which requires plaintiffs to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, often including evidence of adverse action. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for future discrimination claims, particularly those where the harm may not be as overt. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff, it could lower the threshold for proving discrimination, potentially opening the door for more individuals to prevail where the impact may be less obvious and not a substantial detriment to the employee.

If you have any questions pertaining to New Jersey’s current employment discrimination laws or the aforementioned case pending before the Supreme Court, please reach out to one of our firm’s employment law attorneys. 

Sharon M. Flynn


Sharon M. Flynn, Esq. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, P.C., and practices primarily in the areas of general litigation, employment law, and insurance defense.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.