Wednesday, July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago, Missouri’s governor signed SB43. That law amends the State’s employment law, including the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), its anti-discrimination statute—mostly in employer-friendly ways. (For media reports on the legislative politics, see, e.g., here, here, and here.) Among the many changes, I’ll highlight (1) MHRA’s new causation requirement and (2) a remarkably broad preemption provision.
- But-For Causation
Most have rightly focused on how MHRA will now require but-for causation. The legislature amended the MHRA to use “because of” to denote causation and by adding these definitions:
(2) "Because" or "because of ", as it relates to the adverse decision or action, the protected criterion was the motivating factor
. . .
(19) "The motivating factor", the employee's protected classification actually played a role in the adverse action or decision and had a determinative influence on the adverse decision or action.
By these definitions, especially the word “determinative” (and “the” in “the motivating factor”), the legislature overrode Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814, 819 (Mo. 2007). There, the court had read MHRA not to require “a plaintiff to prove that discrimination was a substantial or determining factor in an employment decision; if consideration of age, disability, or other protected characteristics contributed to the unfair treatment, that is sufficient.”
By adopting but-for causation, the MHRA will become more stringent than section 703 of Title VII, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m), while matching up more with how the US Supreme Court reads the federal age-discrimination statute and Title VII’s retaliation provision.
- Preemption of Common Law Claims
SB43 also substantially preempts common-law employment claims, in two ways. First, MHRA now includes this: “This chapter, in addition to chapter 285 and chapter 287, shall provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.” The phrase “arising out of an employment relationship” is not further defined.
Second, a new "Whistleblower’s Protection Act" contains this provision: “This section is intended to codify the existing common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine and to limit their future expansion by the courts. This section, in addition to chapter 213 and chapter 287, shall provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims of unlawful employment practices.” (The Act then declares what counts as an “unlawful employment practice” under the Act.)
Courts must usually read statutes to give meaning to all their terms, and cannot read them to make certain provisions superfluous. So, what more does the MHRA preemption provision cover than the whistleblower preemption provision?
If we read “arising out of an employment relationship” broadly, that provision seems to cover all Missouri common law claims predicated on an employment relationship. That would include all the ones that apply to conduct that might not violate the new whistleblower statute (e.g., tortious interference with contract, negligent hiring, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, fraud). That’s because neither chapter 287 (workers’ compensation) nor chapter 285 (miscellaneous) expressly provide for a way to bring all employment-related claims under Missouri common law.
But, does that mean that the MHRA preemption provision covers common-law contract claims for breach of an employment contract? Such claims certainly “aris[e] out of the employment relationship” and entail some allegation of “injury or damages.” It’s unlikely that Missouri’s legislators wanted to stop, for example, an employer who sues for breach of an employment contract. And yet, the text of the MHRA preemption provision doesn’t distinguish between contract and tort claims. It simply covers “any and all claims for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.”
SB43 goes into effect on August 28.