A recent court ruling highlights the danger of employers claiming an employee was “laid off” when, in fact, the employee was terminated for another reason.
Historically, many employers have made the mistake of claiming that they were merely “laying off” a troublesome employee. However, with today’s prevalence of lawsuits for wrongful termination, that tactic can backfire.
In a recent case before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, a rental car company branch manager, Terri Wallace, was laid off 15 days after she complained that her supervisor was sexually harassing her.
Wallace dropped the sexual harassment suit before it reached the jury.
However, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to retaliate against an employee who files a sexual harassment complaint in good faith. In this case, “good faith” means without the intention of fraud.
The Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) dictates the Missouri sexual discrimination law in the workplace. The MHRA applies to all employers who have six or more employees, so it differs from federal law which only applies to employers who have fifteen or more employees. Additionally, the MHRA applies to those acting in the interest of the employer as well as labor organizations. Employees are anyone who works for the employers as defined in the MHRA except for independent contractors.
Under the MHRA, employers cannot make certain types of decisions based on sex. This includes hiring, firing, classifying or training. All job conditions, terms and compensation must be determined by factors other than the employee’s sex. It’s also important to note that sexual discrimination can be overt or can simply be differential treatment.
Of course, there are occasions when employers can treat men and women differently. One of these occasions is when the employee’s sex is substantially job-related and necessary for normal business operation.
Anyone who wants to file a claim must do so with the Missouri Human Rights Commission (MHRC) within 180 days of the incident. You can call, email or send a letter to the MHRC.
The MHRC will then investigate your claims. Before they do so, you’ll have to provide them information about the people involved in the incident and a description of what happened as well as any supporting documentation that can help (emails, phone conversations, records, etc). If the Commission determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that your rights have been violated, the Commission will try to resolve the conflict. If that is unsuccessful your case may go to a hearing. You can also request a Right to Sue letter at this point to take your case to the state court system.
Make note that in Missouri, you cannot sue your employer without first going through the MHRA investigation process.
To help prevent problems, employers and employees need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Employers also should always have an up-to-date Missouri Labor Law Poster available.