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Monday, January 6, 2020

Missouri Supreme Court Limits Application of MHRA to Injuries in State

In two December 24, 2019 decisions, the Missouri Supreme Court clarified and limited the application of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) to employers that are located in Missouri but have out of state employees.

The two cases, Tuttle v. Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, Inc., SC97721, and State ex rel. Anheuser-Busch, LLC v. Moriarty, SC97845, both involved employers with headquarters located in Missouri. In the Tuttle case, the employee was manager of a Dobbs Tire store located in Illinois, and in the Anheuser-Busch case the employee was a sales director for a territory including several states other than Missouri, and lived and received his paycheck in Iowa. In both cases, the employee alleged he had been subject to age discrimination and other unlawful conduct in violation of the MHRA.

Both employers moved to dismiss the employees’ claims because the employees in question were not located in Missouri and thus, the employers argued, were not protected by the MHRA. The trial courts split on the issue — in the Tuttle case the employee’s claim was dismissed, but in the Anheuser-Busch it was allowed to proceed. The Missouri Supreme Court resolved this disagreement by siding with the employers, holding that although the allegedly discriminatory decision in each case was made in Missouri, the resulting injury (which was allegedly suffered outside of Missouri) controlled in determining whether the MHRA would apply.

Both cases had strong dissents, which focused on the same decision versus injury analysis as the majority’s opinions, but would have reached the opposite conclusion. Notably, Judge Breckenridge, sided with the employer in the Tuttle case, but the employee in the Anheuser-Busch decision. The reasons for Judge Breckenridge’s decision are not stated in the opinions, but the most likely explanation is that she drew a distinction between the facts of the Anheuser-Busch case, in which the employee worked with office support staff in Missouri and attended regular monthly meetings in Missouri, and Tuttle, which contained no specific allegations that the employee’s work was in any way connected to Missouri.

For employers based in Missouri these cases clarify that, in general, an out of state employee may be protected by federal law and the law of the state in which the employee is located (where the injury occurred), but will likely not be protected under the MHRA even if the employment decision is made in Missouri.

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such.  Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert and D. Leo Human.

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