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St. Louis Missouri Labor & Employment Law Firm | Employment Discrimination Attorney | Understanding Employment Discrimination
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MISSOURI LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT LAW
Understanding Employment Discrimination

Understanding the Missouri Employment Discrimination Standard

In Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned more than twenty years of precedent abandoning the federal McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green burden-shifting analysis for employment discrimination claims brought under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). The Court held that Missouri Approved Jury Instruction 31.24, which had required jury verdicts in favor of employees based on a "contributing factor" standard, could now be properly applied at the summary judgment stage.

Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814 (2007)

In Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, the plaintiff was a 59-year-old former police captain with the City of Maryland Heights. He brought an employment discrimination action under § 213.055 of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), alleging that he was terminated because of unlawful age and disability discrimination. The trial court entered summary judgment against Daugherty on the basis that he failed to establish a prima facie case for both claims. The court of appeals affirmed. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

In reviewing the trial's court's grant of summary judgment to the City, the Court noted that the MHRA defines "discrimination" as including "any unfair treatment" based on a protected characteristic and that nothing in the language of the statute requires a plaintiff to prove that discrimination was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment decision. Daugherty, 231 S.W.3d at 819. A plaintiff thereby need only show that discrimination "contributed" to the unfair treatment. Id. at 819.

In order to more closely reflect the language of the MHRA and the standards set forth in the verdict instruction 31.24 adopted in 2005, the Court abandoned federal caselaw in analyzing employment discrimination claims under MHRA. Instead, the Court adopted MAI 31.24 as the proper standard to be applied at the summary judgment stage of such claims for several reasons. First, the court found that the “contributing factor” language used in MAI 31.24 is consistent with the plain meaning of the MHRA." Id. at 820. Second, the court held that this standard is proper at the summary judgment stage because "a plaintiff has no higher standard to survive summary judgment than is required to submit a claim to a jury." Id. at 820. Finally, the court noted that "summary judgment should seldom be used in employment discrimination cases, because such cases are inherently fact-based and often depend on inferences rather than on direct evidence." Id. at 818.

Ultimately, the Court held that an employment discrimination claim survives summary judgment if there is a genuine issue of material fact whether the protected characteristic was a “contributing factor” in the employer's adverse employment decision. Id. at 820. In this case, the Court found that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the City on both the age and disability discrimination claims.

The Impact of Daugherty

The significant change in the law post-Daugherty benefits plaintiffs in three ways. First, plaintiffs need only show that discrimination was a "contributing factor" to the adverse employment decision, not that discrimination was the "motivating factor" or a "substantial factor." Second, and arguably the true impact of Daugherty on plaintiffs beyond reducing their burden of proof, is the “fact that a plaintiff is no longer required to rebut a defendant’s reasons for the alleged discrimination in order to survive summary judgment.” See, e.g., 73 Mo. L. Rev. 651, 651 (2008). The lessened procedural burden, which no longer requires plaintiffs to produce evidence showing that the employer's anti-discriminatory reason is pretextual, will likely result in Missouri courts hearing more employment discrimination claims. 73 Mo. L. Rev. 651, 651-652 (2008). Finally, plaintiffs in Missouri will likely choose to bring their claims in state rather than federal court for two reasons: first, following State ex rel. Diehl v. O’Malley, plaintiffs no longer need to bring a federal action under Title VII in order to get a jury trial; and second, a plaintiff's procedural burden to survive summary judgment is now clearly lower in state court. 73 Mo. L. Rev. 651, 665 (2008).

However, the net impact may in fact result in less cases being heard in Missouri state courts through fewer retrials. 73 Mo. L. Rev. 651, 665 (2008). This is because the Daugherty framework is simpler in its application to employment discrimination claims, as it gives parties as well as the courts a clearer picture of employees' and employers' burdens as compared to the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis. 73 Mo. L. Rev. 651, 665 (2008).

Contact Attorney Jason M. Finkes

For a consultation with Attorney Jason M. Finkes located in St. Louis, Missouri, please call (314) 645-4100, fill out our contact form, or us email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it