Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Discrimination after Daugherty: Are Missouri Courts "Contributing To" or "Motivated By" the Number of Cases on the Discrimination Docket?

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Discrimination after Daugherty: Are Missouri Courts "Contributing To" or "Motivated By" the Number of Cases on the Discrimination Docket?

Article excerpt

Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

For more than twenty years, Missouri courts have applied the federal McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis to determine the outcome of a defendant's motion for summary judgment in claims of employment discrimination. (2) However, the Missouri Supreme Court recently abandoned the McDonnell Douglas framework in favor of a new method of analysis derived from a Missouri Approved Jury Instruction. This new analysis has become known as the "contributing factor" test.

In the months since Daugherty, controversy has surrounded this standard. (3) Many defense attorneys claim that the "contributing factor" test significantly lowers the bar that a discrimination plaintiff must meet in order to defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment. (4) Pre-Daugherty, plaintiffs had to prove the unlawful discrimination was a "motivating factor." (5) Among other procedural changes, plaintiffs in a post-Daugherty case must show the discrimination was a "contributing factor" in the challenged employment decision. (6) Employers argue that this perceived change puts them at a great disadvantage. (7)

While it is true that the shift to a new method of analysis has lessened the burden on plaintiffs who are trying to keep their claim alive, whether the language of the test refers to "contributing factors" or "motivating factors" should be of little concern. This note will argue that the true concern with the Missouri Supreme Court's decision in Daugherty lies in the fact that a plaintiff is no longer required to rebut a defendant's reasons for the alleged discrimination in order to survive summary judgment. This significantly lessens the procedural burden placed on plaintiffs, which will likely result in more employment discrimination claims being heard in Missouri Courts.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

After working as an officer with the police department of Maryland Heights, Missouri for eighteen years, Douglas Daugherty was terminated from his employment in November of 2002. (8) In firing Daugherty, the City of Maryland Heights maintained that Daugherty was unable to perform certain essential functions of his job after he began to suffer from complications resulting from an on-the-job accident. The City then gave Daugherty the option to take early disability retirement to avoid termination. (9) When Daugherty did not exercise that option, he was terminated. (10)

Daugherty's physical problems started shortly after he began working as an officer in Maryland Heights when he was struck by a drunk driver while supervising an accident scene. (11) As a result, he sustained serious back injuries which kept him from working for over a year; however, he eventually he returned to active duty. (12) Approximately twelve years later, Daugherty was promoted to the rank of captain. (13) Shortly after this promotion, Daugherty missed several months of work due to complications from his prior back injury. (14)

In 2002, after chronic absenteeism because of his injury, the City required Daugherty to undergo an examination by a physician to determine his "fitness for duty." (15) The Deputy Chief of Police for the City created a memorandum, to be used by the physician evaluating Daugherty, spelling out what the Deputy Chief believed were the essential functions of Daugherty's job. (16) In creating the memorandum the Deputy Chief used both the City's official position description, (17) as well as his own beliefs about what was required of an employee in Daugherty's position, many of which were significantly more demanding than those listed in the official description. (18) Despite the physical demands spelled out in the Deputy Chief's memorandum, other officers in the department testified that they viewed Daugherty's position as merely supervisory in nature, (19) making it highly unlikely that he would ever face a situation which would require such physical activities. …

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