There has long been a debate over what exactly constitutes an “employer” as that term is defined under Missouri’s employment laws. While Missouri courts have made it clear that an “employer” can include individuals in addition to the company itself, individual liability is rather limited. A recent decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Farrow v. St. Francis Medical Center, et al., reaffirmed this limitation.
In Farrow, the plaintiff employee was hired by the defendant hospital as a staff nurse in 1999. Beginning in December 2005, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s medical director of radiology began making unwanted sexual propositions to her. The plaintiff complained about this conduct to the human resources department and other hospital personnel. In response, the hospital terminated her employment. The plaintiff thereafter filed suit against both the hospital and the doctor himself, alleging in pertinent part violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act and wrongful discharge. The defendants both filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that, among other things, her claim for wrongful discharge sufficiently stated a claim against both defendants. The Missouri Court of Appeals disagreed. Citing a number of recent Missouri appellate cases, the court found that the doctor was not the plaintiff’s “employer” underMissouriemployment laws. In so holding, the court explained:
A wrongful discharge cause of action requires an employer/employee relationship…Even if [the doctor] exercised some degree of control or supervision of [the plaintiff’s] daily activities in his individual capacity, Missouri law does not consider individuals who merely supervise an employee as employers for the purpose of wrongful-discharge claims…Therefore, because an employer/employee relationship between [the plaintiff] and [the doctor] was not established, the trial court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of [the doctor]. . . .