Williams v. City of Kansas City, WD83835

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtMARK D. PFEIFFER, JUDGE
Docket NumberWD83835,WD83938
Decision Date21 December 2021



Nos. WD83835, WD83938

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

December 21, 2021

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable Sandra C. Midkiff, Judge

Before: Cynthia L. Martin, Chief Judge, Presiding, Alok Ahuja, Mark D. Pfeiffer, Karen King Mitchell, Gary D. Witt, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Thomas N. Chapman, and W. Douglas Thomson, Judges, and Joseph M. Ellis and Thomas H. Newton, Senior Judges

En Banc


In this consolidated appeal, the City of Kansas City, Missouri ("City"), appeals from the judgment entered by the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri ("trial court"), following a jury verdict in favor of Mr. Ronald Williams ("Williams"), awarding him compensatory and punitive damages on his claims of retaliation and hostile work environment under the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") and attorney fees with a multiplier, expenses, and costs; and from the order denying the City's post-trial motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict


("JNOV"), new trial, and merger of compensatory damages. The City alleges error in the admission of evidence, attorney fees award, and denial of its post-trial motions. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background[1]

Williams is a master electrician who was employed by the City as a maintenance electrician from 2011 until 2017. Williams is African-American. In two Charges of Discrimination and an amended Charge modifying the second Charge, Williams documented a pattern and practice of pervasive and continuing racially discriminatory conduct from the fall of 2013 through the spring of 2015 and beyond. Though none of the Charges identify a discrete act of termination, demotion, or refusal to promote, all of the Charges collectively describe a hostile, intimidating, retaliatory and offensive work environment.

On May 6, 2014, Williams filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("Commission") against the City ("2014 Charge"). Williams alleged in the 2014 Charge that his troubles began after he signed a statement regarding a complaint of racial discrimination in support of one of his former co-employees in July of 2013.[2] The 2014 Charge alleged that the discrimination he faced was "continuing" and resulted in a racially motivated and unfair reprimand letter in October of 2013 stemming from a September 2013 workplace event. Specifically, he charged:

I was hired on or about June 20, 2011, as a Maintenance Electrician
In or about July 2013, I signed a statement regarding a complaint of race[-]based discrimination filed by a former Superintendent. On or about October 9, 2013, I, and one other black Maintenance Electrician, was issued a letter of reprimand after
being observed sitting in our vehicle from 10:00 AM to 10:45 AM on or about September 19, 2013.
I believe I was issued the letter of reprimand because of my race (black), and in retaliation for participating in the protected activity of writing a statement in support of another person's complaint of discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

Ex. 201 (emphasis added). The Commission investigated Williams's complaint and concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the complaint was not filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination as required by the MHRA. Ex. 239. Of significance to our discussion today, though this Charge was dismissed by the Commission, the City conceded that it had notice of the express allegations contained in the 2014 Charge and received such notice at or near the time the 2014 Charge was filed with the Commission.

Instead of asserting any sort of challenge to the Commission's timeliness/jurisdictional determination as to the 2014 Charge, Williams filed a second Charge of Discrimination against the City with the Commission on October 2, 2015 ("2015 Charge"), and incorporated his allegation of racial discrimination from the 2014 Charge into the last sentence of the 2015 Charge when explaining the continuing and pervasive level of discrimination he was experiencing. Specifically, Williams again alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his race and retaliated against. Williams detailed a pattern of racially motivated discrimination in 2014 and 2015 and that the pattern of discrimination and retaliation was a continuing action. Williams alleged that white employees with less experience were offered educational training courses that would empower these white employees to be more qualified than black employees to receive job promotions with the City that would pay those employees more than the less-trained black employees. Williams did not focus upon one discrete action of discriminatory failure of the City to allow him to take an educational training course; instead, he described multiple instances in


which he and another black co-employee were denied access to training courses even though they possessed more job seniority than the white employees that were selected for the training courses. And, in conclusion, Williams reiterated that the pattern of discrimination by the City was a continuation of its retaliatory tactics with regard to Williams's initial act in 2013 of "opposing acts made unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act."[3] Specifically, he charged:

I. I was hired by [the City] on or about 6/20/11 and I am currently employed as a Maintenance Electrician.
II. On or about 11/14, Maintenance Electricians, white, were selected for and thereafter completed an industrial motor control training course. I had more seniority than two of the Maintenance Electricians, as did another black Maintenance Electrician.
III. I believe this is discrimination against me because of my race, black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and retaliation against me for opposing acts made unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

Ex. 202 (emphasis added).

On October 7, 2016, Williams filed an Amended Charge of Discrimination (amending the 2015 Charge) against the City with the Commission ("2016 Charge"). In the 2016 Charge, Williams again alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his race and retaliated against. However, in this Charge, Williams more particularly documented a discriminatory scheme by the City to allow less senior white employees to take educational training courses offered by the City so that the white employees could receive job promotions while the more senior black employees were denied access to the training courses offered by the City and, consequently, were not in an educational position to receive the same promotional opportunities as the white


employees. Williams pointed out that the City's scheme included attempting to pacify the black employees by assuring them that more training courses would be offered by the City to the black employees when, in fact, the City never offered such courses and Williams intimates in the 2016 Charge that he believed that the City never intended to offer the training courses to the black employees as Williams concludes his allegations by stating that this pattern of hostility towards Williams and his fellow black co-employees was a continuing action by the City. Specifically, he charged:

I have worked for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, for approximately seventeen years and have been in the Water Services Department for the last five years. Since November, 2014, when less-senior white employees were permitted to take an Industrial Motor Control Training Course, management has been offering to allow myself and other African-Americans the opportunity to take such a class. The White employees were paid while taking this class. Initially, we were told that there would be two groups taking the class. The White employees were permitted to take the class first. Neither myself nor any other African-Americans have been offered the same course. I believe that the City intended to use this class as a basis for reclassifying employees, as mention of a new job position of Utility Electrician was made and I believe this course would have been used as a qualification for that position. I complained to the Superintendent, Steve Berry, about the White employees getting to take the class and none of the African-American employees getting to and about wanting to talk to Human Resources about the new job position. After that, there has not been any more mention of the Utility Electrician position. Management continued to tell us that there would be a second class after the first group had finish[ed], it was even mentioned after I initially filed my charge. To this date, no second class has ever been offered.
I believe that the City and the management at the Water Plant singled out the African-Americans and selected the White employees to take the class and that our race played a role in the decision; we had been asking to take the course for years prior to it being offered to the White employees. I believe this is a clear pattern and practice by the City of permitting White employees to receive better training than African-Americans, that would put the White employees in a better position for promotion.

Ex. 203. On April 20, 2018, the Commission issued Williams a notice of his right to sue under the MHRA. The notice informed Williams that he must bring a civil action against the City within ninety days of the date of the notice or his right to sue would be lost. Ex. 204.


Williams timely filed a Petition for Damages against the City on July 13, 2018. Williams alleged a pervasive and continuing pattern and practice of discrimination that all started after he signed a written...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT