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Missouri Supreme Court rules affirms prohibition of LGBTQ employment discrimination

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Supreme Court has affirmed that Missouri law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an employee’s failure to conform to sex-based stereotypes, bringing Missouri in line with federal employment law and the legal protections offered in most states. The decision agrees with an earlier decision for the Missouri Court of Appeals in the same case.

In the first case, Lampley v. Missouri Commission of Human Rights Harold Lampley and a co-worker filed charges of sex discrimination and retaliation against his employer, the State of Missouri’s Office of Administration Child Support Enforcement Division. He argued that as an openly gay man, he experienced harassment at work because he failed to conform to stereotypes about how a male should behave. His co-worker alleged she experienced retaliation because of her relationship with him.

The Missouri Commission of Human Rights declined to investigate these claims because sexual orientation is not expressly protected under workplace discrimination laws in Missouri. In this case of first impression in Missouri, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Human Rights Commission did, in fact, have jurisdiction in his case on basis of sex stereotyping as a form of sex discrimination – which is expressly protected under Missouri’s Human Rights law.

In the second case, RMA v. Blue Springs R-IV Sch. Dist., RMA, a transgender male student in the Blue Springs School District was denied access to the men’s restroom and other facilities at school, forcing him to leave both the football and track teams and limiting his success at school. RMA argued that he was discriminated against because of sex on the grounds that he was forced to use different facilities than other males at his school. The lower court dismissed the case on grounds that gender identity discrimination was not covered in Missouri’s Human Rights law.

In Tuesday’s ruling, also a case of first impression, the Missouri Supreme Court said that RMA’s claim may proceed under Missouri’s laws prohibiting sex discrimination in public accommodations, which includes in public schools.

In both cases, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed that both cases could constitute discrimination on the basis of sex and allowed the case to move forward in respective court proceedings.

In February 2018, ACLU of Missouri filed two amicus briefs – one on behalf of Rene Frost and Harold Lampley’s anti-discrimination charge with the Missouri Human Rights Commission and the other on behalf of R.M.A., a transgender student in the Blue Springs School district whose request for accommodations was denied by the school district. Both cases claim discrimination because of sex.

“Members of the LGBTQ community should enjoy the same protections against sex-based discrimination as everyone else,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “Excluding LGBTQ individuals from legal protections was justified by outdated, destructive stereotypes and ignored the lived reality of thousands of people in our state.”

PROMO is Missouri’s statewide advocacy organization promoting equal treatment under the law for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTQ) community.

PROMO submitted a friend of the court brief in this RMA v. Blue Springs case. In it, PROMO argued that Missouri nondiscrimination laws must include protection from discrimination based on sex, in addition to explicitly protecting sexual orientation and gender identity, because gender-based discrimination is a particular barrier for transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students in Missouri, who face threats to their safety and ability to access education due to sex-based discrimination in school.

Steph Perkins, Executive Director of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, added, “We are pleased with the court’s historic decisions to allow these two cases to move forward on the basis of sex discrimination. We hope this sends a message to the Missouri Legislature to clarify our Missouri Human Rights Act for LGBTQ individuals who already face higher rates of gender-based discrimination in their workplaces, homes, and at school. LGBTQ Missourians need to be explicitly protected from discrimination under state law, and we urge them to act now.”
Currently, the Missouri Human Rights Act does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity or explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Missouri lawmakers are considering legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity within the law’s protections – protections which are still incomplete or lacking in 30 states.

“Discrimination based on gender expression and orientation is rooted in ignorant and incorrect assumptions,” said Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Allowing discriminatory policies and laws to stand harms our LGBTQ neighbors. We should all be working toward a more inclusive Missouri – and through legislation, like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, we hope to bring an end to cases like this one and give Missouri’s LGBTQ individuals clear and defined legal protections.”

This decision falls in line with federal court decisions finding federal law against sex discrimination protect lesbian, gay, and transgender people. Time and again, courts have refused to allow generalizations about individuals—or who they love—to play any role in employment or accommodations decisions.