JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) preempts common law claims, such as negligence and wrongful discharge, the state’s high court ruled in Church & Dwight Co. Inc. v. The Honorable William B. Collins, and Focus Workforce Management Inc., et al. v. The Honorable William B. Collins. The unanimous decision also reaffirmed the strictly time filing requirement allotted by the MHRA.

The Missouri Supreme Court issued a permanent writ of prohibition finding that the Cass County Circuit Court exceeded its authority in allowing an employee to proceed with claims against her formers-employees under MHRA and allow an amended petition to include common-law negligence and wrongful discharge.

Alicia Mulvey sued two companies, Focus Workforce Management and Church & Dwight Company, for employment discrimination and retaliation. She was hired by Focus and assigned to work at Church’s manufacturing facility. Mulvey filed a sexual harassment claim with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR), allegedly an incident took place at Church. Following an investigation, she was terminated by Focus and not hired on permanently by Church.

A charge of discrimination was filed with the MCHR and a right-to-sue letter dated February 18, 2016, was issued. Civil action under the MHRA must be filed within 90 days of the notice. Mulvey filed on May 19, 2016 — 91 days later.

The defendants argued the claims were time-barred and sought dismissal. Before the dismissal claims were ruled on, Mulvey moved to amend her petition to add common-law negligence and wrongful discharge claims. The court sided with the former-employee in both instances.

The two companies sought relief from the lower court’s order overruling their motion to dismiss and allowing Mulvey to amend her petition.

“By the statute’s plain language, an MHRA claim must be brought in the circuit court within 90 days of the commission’s notification letter,” writes Judge Patricia Breckenridge.

“Because Ms. Mulvey failed to timely file her petition in the circuit court within the 90-day statute of limitations prescribed in section 213.111.1, her MHRA claims are time-barred. The circuit court, therefore, should have sustained Church’s and Focus’ motions to dismiss and exceeded its authority by failing to do so.”

The court also determined that the MHRA provides a “fully comprehensive remedial scheme enveloping the remedies available for the common law claims” alleged by Mulvey.

Under the MHRA, the court may grant as relief, as it deems appropriate, any permanent or temporary injunction, temporary restraining order, or other order, and may award to the plaintiff actual and punitive damages, and may award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.

“The MHRA, therefore, provides a broad range of remedies including injunctive relief, actual damages, punitive damages, court costs, and attorney fees. Ms. Mulvey is not entitled to any other remedies for common law claims of negligence or wrongful discharge. In fact, by providing for attorney fees, the MHRA provides plaintiffs with an additional remedy unavailable at common law,” writes Breckenridge. “Because the MHRA fully provides for all remedies available at common law, Ms. Mulvey’s common law claims of negligence and wrongful discharge are fully encompassed and comprehended by the MHRA.”

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.