Missouri Court of Appeals Dismisses Discrimination Case, Underlining Need for MO Non-Discrimination LawsBy Adam Polaski • October 28, 2015 • 1:31 pm
Yesterday, October 27, 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp, a case in which a gay man claimed his employer created a hostile work environment – and ultimately fired him – because of his sexual orientation. The Court described the discrimination that contributed to the hostile work environment but determined that because Missouri’s Human Rights Act does not shield people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.
The Court described, “Specifically, Cook Paper argued that Missouri law lacks any legal standard or statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of “sexual preference” and that “sexual preference” is not a protected class under the Missouri Human Rights Act. The circuit court agreed and dismissed Pittman’s claim.”
In the 2-1 decision, Judge Robert Clayton wrote, “I respectfully and reluctantly concur” with the decision.
Sarah Rossi, ACLU of Missouri Director of Advocacy and Policy, issued a statement following the decision:
Today the Missouri Court of Appeals made two things very clear: Missourians are being harassed, bullied, and fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual and they will have no recourse in the courts unless the State Legislature changes the Missouri Human Rights Act to protect them.
The case was the latest to consider claims that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity be protected based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. Several federal courts – and most recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – have interpreted Title VII to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But this week’s decision from the Missouri Court of Appeals demonstrates that until a state or federal statute is in place outlawing discrimination against LGBT people, different courts can interpret the same question in different ways.
The Court wrote, “The Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) is not merely a reiteration of Title VII. The Act is in some ways broader than Title VII, and in other ways is more restrictive. If the wording in the MHRA is clear and unambiguous, then federal case law which is contrary to the plain meaning of the MHRA is not binding.”
Freedom for All Americans’ Executive Director Matt McTighe explained the need for explicit statutes this summer following the EEOC’s step forward. He said:
Only through comprehensive federal legislation can we ensure uniform nondiscrimination protections apply to all LGBT people, without question. – Matt McTighe, Freedom for All Americans
It’s time for Missouri – and 32 other states where LGBT Americans aren’t fully and explicitly protected from discrimination – to extend clear protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And it’s time for the U.S. government to secure comprehensive federal protections to ensure that every American is treated fairly and equally under the law.