Court Affirms that Missouri Human Rights Act Prohibits Sex Stereotypes in the Workplace

By James Montgomery and Pat Konopka

On October 24, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri issued an opinion affirming that sex stereotyping is a form of gender discrimination that is actionable under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). In Lampley v. MCHR, the court followed the trend in federal litigation affirming the application of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins to LGBT employees.

In Lampley, an openly gay man and his close friend, a fellow employee, were discharged by their employer. Both filed complaints of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). Lampley alleged that his behavior and appearance did not comport with his employer's stereotypes regarding how a male should appear and behave in the workplace. The MCHR construed Lampley's claim as alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and determined it did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

Lampley brought suit against the MCHR, arguing that the MHRA did cover sex stereotyping and the MCHR had jurisdiction over the claims. The trial court entered summary judgment for the MCHR, holding that under Missouri law "neither sexual orientation nor gender stereotyping are protected classes."
In a unanimous decision issued last week, the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri reversed the trial court and held that the MHRA's prohibition of sexual discrimination applies to cases where sex stereotyping is used as a form of discrimination. The Court held that sex stereotyping falls under the fourth element of an MHRA claim, that an "employee was treated differently from similarly situated members of the opposite sex."

Lampley did not decide that sexual orientation discrimination is a de facto form of sex discrimination. Instead, Lampley leaves the door open to future questions on the breadth of improper sex stereotyping in the workplace. For example, Lampley leaves unanswered the question of whether stereotypes such as "men must only date women" and "women must only date men" are impermissible in Missouri.

Missouri employers should ensure that handbooks and corporate policies reflect that gender stereotyping in the employer's workplace is not permitted.

For more information on gender stereotyping in the workplace, or if you would like to receive additional information regarding steps employers can take to comply with the decision in Lampley, please contact Pat Konopka, James Montgomery, Johnny Wang, Sara Welch or the Stinson Leonard Street contact with whom you regularly work.

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