Gill v. City of St. Peters

Decision Date01 March 2022
Docket NumberED 109658
Citation641 S.W.3d 733
Parties Amanda GILL, Appellant, v. CITY OF ST. PETERS, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Larry A. Bagsby, 119 South Main Street, St. Charles, MO 63301, for appellant.

Victor S. Williams & Jared D. Howell, 200 North Third Street, St. Charles, MO 63301, Katrina Yunzu Morgan & Jillian Meek Mueller, 222 S. Central Ave. St. Louis, MO 63105, for respondent.

Cristian M. Stevens, J.

Introduction

Amanda Gill ("Gill") appeals the circuit court's judgment dismissing Count II of her petition alleging sex discrimination by her employer under the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). We affirm.

Facts and Procedural Background

Viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and taken as true, McGuire v. Edwards , 571 S.W.3d 661, 665 (Mo. App. E.D. 2019), the facts in the petition are as follows. Amanda Gill began working for the City of St. Peters ("City") as a dispatcher in the municipal police department in 2009. Gill married her husband, an employee in the City's parks department, in 2012. Gill and her husband often worked overlapping shifts without issue between 2012 and August 2015. The City announced in January 2015 that the parks department would merge with the municipal police department.

Gill and her husband were told separately by their supervisors that they would not be affected by the City's nepotism policy. Then, in August 2015, the City's human resources manager informed Gill she would need to change departments before the merger on October 1, 2015. The human resources manager told Gill and her husband they had to move and would not be "grandfathered in." Gill and her husband responded that another married couple worked as a police dispatcher and a police officer in apparent violation of the nepotism policy, to no avail.

Gill was transferred to the City's water department in December 2015. She was transferred with the same base pay she received as a police dispatcher, despite that her new position at the water department paid less. At the water department, Gill received no raises or overtime pay equivalent to those she would have received as a police dispatcher.

More than two years after the transfer, on October 1, 2018, Gill filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("Commission").1 On the charge, Gill checked a box indicating the conduct was a "Continuing Action," identified the date the discrimination took place as "Dec. 15 to Present," and alleged two claims of sex discrimination by the City. Gill denominated her second claim "Sex Discrimination – Disparate Impact" and recounted the facts set forth above. On April 4, 2019, the Commission issued Gill a notice of the right to sue the City within ninety days.

Gill filed a petition in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County on May 2, 2019. In Count II of the petition, Gill again denominated her claim "Sex Discrimination – Disparate Impact." Gill attached the charge of discrimination as an exhibit to the petition.

The City filed a motion to dismiss Count II for failure to state a claim on the bases that: Gill's claim was time-barred; the MHRA does not provide for, nor do Missouri courts recognize, a claim of disparate impact; and even if a disparate impact claim could be construed under the MHRA, Gill did not sufficiently allege the elements of that claim. After substantial briefing and a hearing on the motion, the circuit court dismissed Count II because Gill's petition was time-barred pursuant to the statutory filing periods in Sections 213.075.1 and 213.111.1 of the MHRA.2 The circuit court also held that Missouri courts have not recognized a disparate impact claim under the MHRA.

Later, the circuit court granted the City's motion for summary judgment on Count I of the petition, which alleged a sexually hostile work environment. The circuit court entered judgment on both Counts I and II on April 22, 2021.

Gill initially filed a notice of appeal challenging the circuit court's summary judgment on Count I and dismissal of Count II. Then Gill filed a memorandum dismissing her appeal as to Count I. Thus, this appeal concerns only the circuit court's dismissal of Count II.

Standard of Review

We review the circuit court's granting of a motion to dismiss de novo. Vinson v. Mo. Comm'n on Human Rights , 622 S.W.3d 218, 221 (Mo. App. E.D. 2021). We will affirm the judgment of dismissal if it can be sustained on any ground raised in the motion to dismiss. Id.

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 55.27(a)(6) is solely a test of the adequacy of the plaintiff's petition.3 State ex rel. Halsey v. Phillips , 576 S.W.3d 177, 180 (Mo. banc 2019). We take the facts alleged in the petition as true and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. McGuire , 571 S.W.3d at 665. We review the petition to determine if the facts alleged meet the elements of a recognized cause of action or of one that might be adopted in that case. Id. When an affirmative defense, such as a statute of limitations, is asserted, the petition may be dismissed on that basis only if it "clearly establishes on its face and without exception that it is barred." State ex rel. Halsey , 576 S.W.3d at 180.

Discussion

On appeal, Gill argues, first, that her disparate impact claim was not time-barred because the MHRA's filing periods were tolled or otherwise extended. Second, Gill argues that Missouri recognizes a disparate impact claim under the MHRA. We address these separate legal grounds seriatim.

Whether Gill's Claim Was Time-Barred

The MHRA, in Section 213.055.1, prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of sex in certain circumstances. Section 213.075.1 requires any complaint filed with the Commission to be filed "within one hundred eighty days of the alleged act of discrimination." Similarly, Section 213.111.1 requires an action brought in court to be filed "no later than two years after the alleged cause occurred or its reasonable discovery by the alleged injured party."

Gill appears to concede that she did not file her complaint with the Commission or her action in court within the original filing periods in Sections 213.075.1 and 213.111.1. Gill pled that she was transferred to the water department sometime in December 2015, and did not elaborate on the date. Gill does not contest that Section 213.075.1, on its face, required Gill to file her charge of discrimination before the end of June 2016, within 180 days of December 2015. Instead, Gill filed the charge on October 1, 2018, more than two years out of time. Likewise, Section 213.111.1 required Gill to file her petition in the circuit court, at the latest, in December 2017, no later than two years after Gill was transferred to the water department in December 2015. Instead, Gill filed her petition in May 2019, more than 17 months out of time.

The Filing Periods Were Not Tolled under the Continuing Violation Theory.

Gill nonetheless urges that the filing periods in Sections 213.075.1 and 213.111.1 did not run on her claim because she pled a continuing violation, which equitably tolled the filing periods. Gill relies on caselaw subjecting the MHRA's filing periods to principles of waiver and estoppel, and equitable tolling exceptions, including the continuing violation theory. See Plengemeier v. Thermadyne Indus. , 409 S.W.3d 395, 400 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) ; Tisch v. DST Sys., Inc. , 368 S.W.3d 245, 252 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012).

But the legislature has since broadly amended the MHRA, including Section 213.075.1, effective August 28, 2017.4 See S.B. 43, 99th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2017). Those amendments render the 180-day filing period in Section 213.075.1 "a jurisdictional condition precedent to filing a civil action under [the MHRA]." Further, the legislature added:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter to the contrary, if a complaint is not filed with the commission within one hundred eighty days of the alleged act of discrimination, the commission shall lack jurisdiction to take any action on such a complaint other than to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The failure to timely file a complaint with the commission may be raised as a complete defense by a respondent or defendant at any time, either during the administrative proceedings before the commission, or in subsequent litigation ....

Id.

The legislature spoke clearly and repeatedly in jurisdictional terms. "As a creature of statute, an administrative agency's authority is limited to that given it by the legislature." Farrow v. Saint Francis Med. Ctr. , 407 S.W.3d 579, 588 (Mo. banc 2013) ; State ex rel. Mo. Pub. Def. Comm'n v. Waters , 370 S.W.3d 592, 598 (Mo. banc 2012).

Both parties extensively cite Section 213.075.1, and the City heavily quotes the 2017 amendments, but neither party addresses whether the amended version of Section 213.075.1 applies here. See SD Invs., Inc., v. Michael-Paul, LLC , 157 S.W.3d 782, 785 (Mo. App. W.D. 2005) ("Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived .... Consequently, the question of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time by the parties, or by this Court sua sponte. ").

With few exceptions, statutory amendments are presumed to operate prospectively, and we generally apply the version of the MHRA in effect at the time of the alleged discriminatory act. See Wiedner v. Ferrellgas, Inc. , 607 S.W.3d 231, 237 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020) ; McGaughy v. Laclede Gas Co. , 604 S.W.3d 730, 743 (Mo. App. E.D. 2020). Here, Section 213.075.1 was amended in 2017, after Gill's 2015 termination, but before Gill filed her 2018 charge of discrimination and her 2019 petition, which arguably alleged a continuing violation. Compare Wiedner , 607 S.W.3d at 237 (applying pre-amendment version of MHRA's definition of "employer" where alleged discrimination occurred in 2016 and plaintiff filed petition in 2018) with State ex rel. D&D Distribs., LLC v. Mo. Comm'n on Human Rights , 579...

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2 cases
  • Smith v. Gen. Motors
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • February 3, 2023
    ...on these untimely acts could survive, however, if they fall under the “continuing violation doctrine.” See Gill v. City of St. Peters, 641 S.W.3d 733, 739 (Mo.Ct.App. 2022); see also Rowe v. Hussmann Corp., 381 F.3d 775, 782 (8th Cir. 2004) (“Missouri courts have concluded that application ......
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri
    • December 27, 2022
    ... ... racially discriminatory conduct, for example. See Gill v ... City of St. Peters, 641 S.W.3d 733, 740 (2022) ... (recognizing as “[e]xamples ... ...

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