On Tuesday, December 18th, 2018 the Western District Court of Appeals held that amendments to Missouri’s employment discrimination laws do not apply to cases that arose before August 28, 2017. In 2017, Missouri’s legislature passed a bill changing several provisions of Missouri’s employment discrimination law, commonly referred to as the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). One of those provisions changed the burden of proof for an employee’s claim of discrimination. Previously, an employee claiming employment discrimination had to prove that the employee’s status as a member of a protected class was “a contributing factor” in the employer’s action against them. Under the amendments, an employee seeking to prove discrimination now has to prove their membership in a protected class was “the motivating factor” in the employer’s action against them.
In Bram v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC , the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri held that the change from “contributing factor” to “motivating factor” did not apply retroactively. Dawn Bram, a former employee of AT&T, sued her employer alleging racial discrimination, a racially hostile work environment, and retaliation. Judge William B. Collins, a Circuit Court Judge in Cass County, found that the change in the burden of proof applied retroactively—meaning that Bram had to show her race was the motivating factor behind her treatment and the termination of her employment. But the Western District Court of Appeals disagreed. In its opinion, the Court wrote that statutes can apply retroactively if (1) the legislature clearly expresses an intent for retroactive application, or (2) if the statute is procedural or remedial, not substantive. The Court noted that nothing in the text of the 2017 amendments to the MHRA indicated that the legislature wanted the changes to apply to cases arising before the amendments took effect. The appellate court found that the amendments were substantive changes to the MHRA, and therefore do not apply retroactively.
The case is the first appellate court case to address the application of the 2017 amendments to the Missouri Human Rights Act. While this case addresses one question relating to the 2017 amendments to the MHRA, others remain. It is possible that the Missouri Supreme Court could weigh in on the issue of retroactive application, but, for now, the Bram case makes clear that the “contributing factor” standard continues to apply to cases that arose prior to August 28, 2017.