Missouri Supreme Court to consider cases involving whether the Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits workplace sexual orientation discrimination and public school transgender discrimination.

January 24, 2018

On January 23, 2018, the Missouri Supreme Court granted transfer in two cases that are expected to address the scope of sex discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA): Lampley et al. v. Mo. Comm’n on Human Rights and in R.M.A. v. Blue Springs R-IV School District, No. SC96683.

 Lampley involves a state employee who alleged he was harassed because he is a homosexual, and another state employee who alleged that she was harassed because of her association with the homosexual employee.  The Missouri Commission on Human Rights dismissed the complaints, finding that the MHRA’s prohibition on “sex discrimination” does not protect an employee from being harassed based on his or her sexual orientation.   Although the circuit court agreed with the Commission, the Western District Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the MHRA’s prohibition on discrimination based on “sex” extends to protect against some claims of sexual orientation discrimination.  The Western District found that stereotyping an employee based on gender was just one manifestation of sex discrimination and thus a viable claim.

The Missouri Attorney General’s office sought transfer in Lampley because the Western District’s opinion conflicts with prior cases rejecting this theory and because the legislature chose not to include sexual orientation within the MHRA’s protections.

In R.M.A., a male transgender student alleged that his school district discriminated against him by forbidding him to use the boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms.  After unsuccessfully seeking a writ of mandamus against the school district, the student filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, which issued a right to sue letter.  The circuit court dismissed the student’s petition, and the Western District Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the MHRA’s prohibition on discrimination based on “sex” did not extend to protect against claims of discrimination because a person is transitioning from one sex to the other.  The Western District found that such a claim does not assert a deprivation of public accommodation as a member of one sex or based on a trait unique to one sex.  Judge Gabbert dissented in a separate opinion.

The student argued that transfer should be granted because the Western District’s opinion improperly gave a narrow construction to the language of the MHRA and because the case poses a question of great state and national interest and importance.

The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to set the cases for oral argument in the coming months after the parties file substitute appellate briefs as permitted under the Court’s rules.