Midstate Oil Co., Inc. v. Missouri Com'n on Human Rights, 65177

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtWELLIVER; BLACKMAR; RENDLEN, C.J., and GUNN, J., dissent and concur in separate dissenting opinion of BLACKMAR; BLACKMAR; BLACKMAR
Citation679 S.W.2d 842
Parties61 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1725 MIDSTATE OIL COMPANY, INC., Respondent, v. MISSOURI COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, et al., Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 65177,65177
Decision Date11 September 1984

John Ashcroft, Atty. Gen., Maureen Laflin, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for appellants.

Robert L. Hyder, Hyder & Prenger, Jefferson City, for respondent.


The Missouri Commission on Human Rights (Commission) appeals from a judgment

of the Circuit Court of Cole County reversing its decision finding that respondent Midstate Oil Company, Inc., had violated § 296.020.1, RSMo 1978, 1 by terminating the employment of complainant Sherry Schroer upon learning she was pregnant. The Western District reversed and remanded. We ordered the case transferred to clarify the law pertaining to disparate treatment claims brought under § 296.020. We affirm the judgment of the circuit court

This case presents the peculiar situation wherein it is alleged that a female manager of a store owned by respondent, employing only female employees, committed an unlawful act of discrimination by discharging a newly hired employee shortly after learning she was pregnant. Complainant initiated this suit by filing a complaint of discrimination with the Commission on the day she was discharged. 2 When conciliation of the complaint proved unsuccessful, the complaint was set for a hearing before a hearing examiner. The record indicates that the principal witnesses at the hearing were complainant and Sandy Schmitz, the manager of Dad's Derby Station in Jefferson City, a gas station-convenience store owned by respondent. Their testimony reveals little dispute as to the basic facts of the case: Schmitz interviewed and hired complainant to work as an attendant in the store during the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Complainant was four months pregnant at the time, but Schmitz was not aware of this fact and complainant did not mention it during the interview. Complainant began work on May 18, 1977, a few days after the interview. Although it was contemplated that complainant eventually would be the sole attendant on duty during the evening shift, she initially was placed under the supervision of another employee, Linda Speckhals, for training. The evening attendant was expected to perform a variety of functions and tasks. These included operating the cash register, stocking the shelves and coolers with groceries and beverages, mopping the floors, carrying cases of oil, grocery items and other sundries from a shed located behind the store into the store whenever needed and unloading or unpacking cases of grocery items and other inventory when delivered weekly. The record clearly indicates that during the term of complainant's employment she primarily observed the store's operation and performed limited tasks under the close supervision of Speckhals. Complainant never assumed or performed the full range of duties expected of the evening attendant.

On the second or third day of her employment, complainant informed Speckhals she was pregnant, stating that she would soon have to rearrange the candy racks located on a counter "to make room for my belly so I could get through it." Speckhals reported this fact to Schmitz, who in turn questioned complainant. Complainant testified that she admitted being pregnant, but insisted that she informed Schmitz that she remained able to do whatever was expected of her. Schmitz testified that complainant told her that she was not supposed to carry heavy cases and would have to take time off due to her pregnancy. Schmitz informed her that she would discuss the situation with her superiors. Shortly thereafter, on May 24, complainant was terminated.

The hearing examiner issued findings of fact and concluded that respondent had acted

in violation of § 296.020.1(1)(a) and ordered an award of $3,212 in back pay. The Commission adopted the hearing examiner's findings of fact, conclusions and order. Respondent appealed and the circuit court reversed

Complainant based her claim of discrimination of § 296.020.1. It provides:

It shall be unlawful employment practice: (1) For an employer, because of the race, creed, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or handicap of any individual:

(a) To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, creed, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or handicap.

The pivotal issue in any claim of unlawful discrimination is whether the employer's conduct challenged by the plaintiff was motivated by an invidious purpose or whether it was based on a legitimate and rational consideration. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 800-01, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1823-24, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 430-31, 91 S.Ct. 849, 853-54, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). To reach an informed conclusion on this issue, federal courts hearing claims alleging unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 use a system of "burden shifting" to unearth the relevant facts. Under this system, first announced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), a plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff carries this burden, the burden then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct. Should the employer satisfy this burden, the plaintiff must then show by a preponderance of this evidence that the employer's articulated reasons are pretextual. Id. at 802-04, 93 S.Ct. at 1824-25. See also Texas Dep't. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (sex discrimination claim of disparate treatment); Furnco Construction Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 98 S.Ct. 2943, 57 L.Ed.2d 957 (1978). The Commission's findings in the instant case are framed in terms of this approach.

Our prior decisions, while not expressly adopting the so-called McDonnell Douglas model for the purpose of analyzing claims under § 296.020, have referred to it or tacitly relied on its methodology. See Barnes Hospital v. Missouri Comm'n on Human Rights, 661 S.W.2d 534, 538 (Mo. banc 1983); Percy Kent Bag Co. v. Missouri Comm'n on Human Rights, 632 S.W.2d 480, 486 (Mo. banc 1982); General Motors Corp. v. Fair Employment Practices Division, 574 S.W.2d 394, 397 (Mo. banc 1978). See also R.T. French Co. v. Springfield Mayor's Comm'n on Human Rights and Community Relations, 650 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo.App.1983); County of St. Louis v. Brooks, 614 S.W.2d 283, 287-88 (Mo.App.1981). Courts in a substantial number of states have adopted the McDonnell Douglas approach in evaluating the proof in cases brought under state anti-discrimination laws. See, e.g., Board of Education of the City of Hartford v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, 176 Conn. 533, 409 A.2d 1013 (1979); Giles v. Family Court, 411 A.2d 599 (Del.1980); A.P. Green Services Division of Bigelow-Liptak Corp. v. Fair Employment Practices Comm'n, 19 Ill.App.3d 875, 312 N.E.2d 314 (1974); Kaster v. Independent School District No. 625, 284 N.W.2d 362 (Minn.1979); Peper v. Princeton University Board of Trustees, 77 N.J. 55, 389 A.2d 465 (1978); Plumbers & Steamfitters Joint Apprenticeship Committee v. Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n, 66 Ohio St.2d 192, 421 N.E.2d 128 (1981); State v. Whitingham School Board, 138 Vt. 15, 410 A.2d 996 (1979). We believe this approach

offers "a sensible, orderly way to evaluate the evidence in light of common experience as it bears on the critical question of discrimination." Furnco Construction Corp., supra, 438 U.S. at 577, 98 S.Ct. at 2949. Accordingly, we hold that disparate treatment claims under § 296.020 should be tried and evaluated under the methodology set forth in McDonnell Douglas

In reviewing the Commission's decision under the principles set forth in Part II, we are cognizant of our limited scope of review. We must decide whether the Commission, after detached consideration of all the evidence before it, could reasonably have made the findings and order, and whether the decision is arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or an abuse of discretion. Kansas City v. Missouri Comm'n on Human Rights, 632 S.W.2d 488, 490 (Mo. banc 1982); St. Louis County v. State Tax Comm'n, 562 S.W.2d 334, 337-38 (Mo. banc 1978); see Thacker v. Massman Construction Co., 247 S.W.2d 623, 627 (Mo.1952). Section 536.140 of the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act directs that the circuit court shall examine the record to determine whether the decision of the agency is supported by competent and substantial evidence. The test is not whether there is some evidence to support the decision below, Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976), but rather whether there is substantial evidence. Ross v. Robb, 662 S.W.2d 257 (Mo. banc 1983). The latter terms have been defined to "mean competent evidence which, if believed, would have probative force on the issues." Barnes Hospital, supra, at 537. It has also been said that substantial evidence "is more than a scintilla, must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." 2 Am.Jur.2d Administrative Law § 688 (1962).

We believe the Commission reasonably could have determined that sufficient evidence was adduced to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. There was evidence that complainant was a member of a class protected by § 296.020.1; that she was discharged; and that a gender-related trait--pregnancy--was a factor in respondent's decision to discharge her. This was sufficient to establish an ...

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