The elements required to prove an employment discrimination claim brought under the Missouri Human Rights Act, (“MHRA”), Section 213.010, RSMo 2000, et seq., have undergone substantial changes over the past several years. Until recently, Missouri courts followed the burden-shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), when analyzing such employment discrimination claims. At the time, the Missouri Supreme Court took the position that the McDonnell Douglas approach offered a “sensible, orderly way to evaluate the evidence in light of common experience as it bears on the critical question of discrimination.” Under this burden-shifting analysis, the plaintiff had the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff met this burden, the burden of production then shifted to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the plaintiff’s rejection or a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the action it took against the plaintiff. If the employer articulated a nondiscriminatory or non-retaliatory reason, the burden shifted back to the plaintiff to prove that the reasons offered by the employer were a pretext and that the decision not to hire was based on the employee’s protected class status.
However, in Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814 (Mo. 2007), the Missouri Supreme Court changed course. In Daugherty, the Court for the first time acknowledged that “Missouri’s discrimination safeguards under the MHRA…are not identical to the federal standards and can offer greater discrimination protection.” Indeed, “the MHRA defines ‘discrimination’ to include ‘any unfair treatment based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age as it relates to employment, disability, or familial status as it relates to housing.’” As noted in Daugherty, nothing in the statutory language of the MHRA requires 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. Accordingly, the Court held that Missouri caselaw on employment discrimination should more closely reflect the plain language of the MHRA and rely less on analysis developed through federal caselaw.
Two years later, in Hill v. Ford Motor Co., 277 S.W.3d 659 (Mo. banc 2009), the Missouri Supreme Court made it clear that discrimination claims under the MHRA are “proved by showing the elements required by the MHRA, rather than by reference to cases such as McDonnell Douglas analyzing violations of federal law.” The Court further held that cases decided prior to Daugherty which suggest the contrary are no longer to be followed. Based upon the decision in Hill, Missouri courts now look only to the elements required under the MHRA when analyzing the sufficiency of an employment discrimination claim.