Barnett v. Cent. Ky. Hauling, LLC, 2019-SC-0064-DG

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
Writing for the CourtOPINION OF THE COURT BY CHIEF JUSTICE MINTON
Citation617 S.W.3d 339
Parties Michael Lee BARNETT, Appellant v. CENTRAL KENTUCKY HAULING, LLC, Appellee
Decision Date18 February 2021
Docket Number2019-SC-0064-DG

617 S.W.3d 339

Michael Lee BARNETT, Appellant
v.
CENTRAL KENTUCKY HAULING, LLC, Appellee

2019-SC-0064-DG

Supreme Court of Kentucky.

FEBRUARY 18, 2021


COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Paul Stewart Abney, Louisville, Kelly Parry-Johnson, Jeremiah Wesley Reece, Soha Tajoddin Saiyed, Abney Law Office, PLLC.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Robert Edwin Maclin, III, Lexington, Jaron Paul Blanford, Elizabeth Chesnut-Barrera, McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC.

OPINION OF THE COURT BY CHIEF JUSTICE MINTON

The Kentucky Civil Rights Act1 bars an employer from discharging an employee because of disability. We accepted discretionary review of this case to consider whether the KCRA similarly bars an employer from discharging an employee because of the disability of an individual with whom the employee associates. We conclude it does not. We affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals to affirm the trial court's order dismissing the KCRA complaint.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Central Kentucky Hauling hired Michael Lee Barnett as a driver in 2011. Known to CKH at his hiring was the fact that Barnett's wife suffered from a debilitating respiratory disease, cystic fibrosis. In late 2013, the wife's declining health required a double lung transplant, which she received in January 2014. Toward the end of that year, her health further declined.

Barnett took time off work to care for his wife. In early 2014, CKH supervisors confronted Barnett concerning a rumor that he was disparaging CKH to coworkers, a rumor Barnett denied. According to Barnett, during that confrontation a supervisor also mentioned his time off caring for his wife. At the end of 2014, CKH officially terminated Barnett's employment for lack of work, but Barnett also understood that one of his supervisors "wanted him gone."

Barnett sued CKH in the circuit court, alleging his firing violated the KCRA. He claimed that CKH discriminated against him for his association with his wife, an individual with a disability as defined by the KCRA. CKH responded by moving to dismiss Barnett's suit under Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure (CR) 12.02(f) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. CKH argued that the KCRA does not create a cause of action for associational discrimination as Barnett alleged. And the trial court agreed with CKH's argument and dismissed the suit. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling and similarly found that the text of the KCRA does not support a cause of action for discrimination based on an employee's association with a disabled individual.

617 S.W.3d 341

For reasons explained below, we affirm the Court of Appeals.

II. ANALYSIS

A. We review de novo the trial court's dismissal under CR 12.02(f).

A defensive motion under CR 12.02(f) requires the trial court to consider as true the material facts alleged in the complaint and grant that motion only if satisfied that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved in support of the claim.2 The motion presents "a pure question of law," and appellate review is de novo.3 Our review of the present case centers on statutory construction, also a matter of de novo review, so we "look anew at this issue, respectfully considering the opinions of the lower courts but without deference."4

B. The KCRA does not create a cause of action for associational discrimination.

The pertinent portion of the KCRA reads: "(1) It is an unlawful practice for an employer: (a) To ... discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because ... the person is a qualified individual with a disability [.]"5 The KCRA defines disability as: "(a) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one (1) or more of the major life activities of the individual; (b) A record of such an impairment; or (c) Being regarded as having such an impairment."6 Additionally, the KCRA defines a "qualified individual with a disability" as:

"[A]n individual with a disability as defined in KRS 344.010 who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that the individuals hold or desires unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate an employee's or prospective employee's disability without undue hardship on the conduct of the employers' business."7

In interpreting what the quoted KCRA provisions mean when read together, this Court must apply principles of statutory interpretation. We must first look to the plain language of the statute to "ascertain and give effect to the intent of the General Assembly."8 Only if the language

617 S.W.3d 342

is unclear do we consider the legislatures’ unspoken intent, the statute's purpose, and the broader statutory scheme.9

Barnett argues that the broad purpose of these statutes is to prevent discrimination of those who are associated with disabled persons, such as his wife in the present case. And he reads the KCRA's language "someone with an impairment" broadly enough to encompass persons who are associated with an individual with an actual impairment. But because statutes are not to be interpreted contrary to their stated language, we must disagree. As the Court of Appeals’ opinion explained, when these provisions are all read together, the KCRA provides protection from discrimination for individuals with disabilities. Overall, the statute's plain language creates a special cause of action for those individuals who are regarded themselves as having an actual impairment. The statute provides first for those with a disability in KRS 344. 040. Then, KRS 344.010 lists three categories for determining who has a disability, one category being those regarded as having an impairment. Importantly, no language in the KCRA suggests an intent to protect those who are associated with disabled persons. To so find "would be to contravene the plain language of the KCRA," as the Court of Appeals opinion aptly concluded.

Barnett urges this Court to consider our recent decision in Asbury University v. Powell10 as support for his contention that we should find a cause of action for associational discrimination despite the plain text of the statute. In Powell , we reviewed the issue of whether a retaliation claim under the KCRA requires an underlying violation of the law.11 Powell alleged Asbury retaliated against her for reporting a mixed-motive theory of gender discrimination. The KCRA does not recognize a mixed-motive theory of discrimination.12 Asbury argued Powell's claim must fail as a matter of law because the KCRA does not recognize the type of discrimination giving rise to the claimed retaliation.13

We held that Powell's retaliation claim survived. We explained that Powell's claim was based on Asbury's "response to her complaints of gender discrimination" and that retaliation claims only require a good-faith belief that the conduct reported was in violation of...

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6 practice notes
  • Jackson Purchase Energy Corp. v. Marshall Cnty., Civil Action No. 5:19-CV-00125-TBR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • April 19, 2021
    ...unspoken intent, the statute's purpose, and the broader statutory scheme." 534 F.Supp.3d 780 Barnett v. Central Ky. Hauling, LLC , 617 S.W.3d 339, 341-42 (Ky. 2021) (citations omitted). Here, the Court finds that the plain language of the statute is clear: KRS 65.760(4) only limits how 911 ......
  • Dye v. Thomas More Univ., Civil Action 2:19-CV-087-CHB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
    • September 2, 2021
    ...the KCRA is to be interpreted in accord with the ADA . . . the KCRA tracks the ADA.”) See also Barnett v. Cent. Kentucky Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 343 (Ky. 2021) (explaining Kentucky courts “consider the ADA when interpreting vague language in the KCRA”); Howard Baer, Inc. v. Schave, 12......
  • Jackson Purchase Energy Corp. v. Marshall Cnty., CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:19-CV-00125-TBR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • April 19, 2021
    ...the legislatures' unspoken intent, the statute's purpose, and the broader statutory scheme." Barnett v. Central Ky. Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 341-42 (Ky. 2021) (citations omitted). Here, the Court finds that the plain language of the statute is clear: KRS 65.760(4) only limits how 911 f......
  • Puro v. Mgmt. Registry, 2021-SC-0060-DG
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • February 24, 2022
    ...336.700 (2019) and hear argument concerning the same. All sitting. All concur. 11 --------- Notes: [1] Barnett v. Cent. Ky. Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 341 (Ky. 2021); Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 12.02(f). [2] Puro v. Mgmt. Registry, Inc., No. 2019-CA-0843, 2020 WL 6819163, at ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Jackson Purchase Energy Corp. v. Marshall Cnty., Civil Action No. 5:19-CV-00125-TBR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • April 19, 2021
    ...unspoken intent, the statute's purpose, and the broader statutory scheme." 534 F.Supp.3d 780 Barnett v. Central Ky. Hauling, LLC , 617 S.W.3d 339, 341-42 (Ky. 2021) (citations omitted). Here, the Court finds that the plain language of the statute is clear: KRS 65.760(4) only limits how 911 ......
  • Dye v. Thomas More Univ., Civil Action 2:19-CV-087-CHB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
    • September 2, 2021
    ...the KCRA is to be interpreted in accord with the ADA . . . the KCRA tracks the ADA.”) See also Barnett v. Cent. Kentucky Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 343 (Ky. 2021) (explaining Kentucky courts “consider the ADA when interpreting vague language in the KCRA”); Howard Baer, Inc. v. Schave, 12......
  • Jackson Purchase Energy Corp. v. Marshall Cnty., CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:19-CV-00125-TBR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • April 19, 2021
    ...the legislatures' unspoken intent, the statute's purpose, and the broader statutory scheme." Barnett v. Central Ky. Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 341-42 (Ky. 2021) (citations omitted). Here, the Court finds that the plain language of the statute is clear: KRS 65.760(4) only limits how 911 f......
  • Puro v. Mgmt. Registry, 2021-SC-0060-DG
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • February 24, 2022
    ...336.700 (2019) and hear argument concerning the same. All sitting. All concur. 11 --------- Notes: [1] Barnett v. Cent. Ky. Hauling, LLC, 617 S.W.3d 339, 341 (Ky. 2021); Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 12.02(f). [2] Puro v. Mgmt. Registry, Inc., No. 2019-CA-0843, 2020 WL 6819163, at ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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