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Historical Happenings: Missouri Human Rights Act Anniversary This Month

Fifty-three years ago this month, a new era in Missouri employment law began. Although it was passed on June 8, 1959, the provisions of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) became effective on August 29, 1959. The MHRA and its subsequent amendments prohibit discrimination in employment due to a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability or age (40 through 69).

Although Missouri courts originally interpreted the MHRA under Federal Title VII precedent, recent decisions have made it clear that the laws are not identical. Missouri employers should be aware of these differences, as they can make the difference in having a successful defense to a discrimination claim. Some of the key differences include:

Individual Liability 

  • Federal: Generally, individual liability is not permitted under Title VII.
  • MHRA: Missouri has rejected Title VII caselaw and permits suits to be brought against supervisory employees, not just the company itself.

Summary Judgment Standard

  • Federal: If a plaintiff does not have direct evidence of discrimination, to survive a summary judgment motion a plaintiff must provide evidence of a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff can do so, the employer must present a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment decision. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the employer’s reason is pretextual. This burden-shifting analysis will be considered at the summary judgment stage. 
  • MHRA: Missouri does not apply the burden-shifting analysis. Instead, an employer must prove that plaintiff’s protected trait was not a “contributing factor” to the employment decision. As a result, summary judgment is rarely granted in MHRA employment discrimination cases.

Damages

  • Federal: Damages are capped depending on the size of the employer. 
  • MHRA: No compensatory cap, but there is a punitive damage cap.

For infomrmation about the Missouri Human Rights Act, contact any member of the Labor and Employment Group.