When an individual in Missouri files a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the timelines are relatively straightforward: the complaint must be filed within 180 days of the last discriminatory event and then a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receiving the right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. Unfortunately, Missouri law contains an extra caveat, one that almost brought a recent litigant’s claim to an early end. See Plengemeier v. Thermadyne Indus. Inc., No. ED99193 (Mo. App. E.D. June 4, 2013).
Hit the jump for the Show-Me state quirk…
Unlike the federal system through the EEOC, the process in Missouri to bring a claim with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) includes an additional time requirement. In Missouri, not only must an individual follow the same 180 and 90 day filing requirements with the MCHR, but also the individual must file their lawsuit “no later than two years after the alleged cause occurred or its reasonable discovery.” See Mo. Rev. Stat. §213.111.1. To see the potential effect of this limitation, and just how close the plaintiff came to losing her entire case, let’s dive into the Plengemeier decision.
In Plengemeier, a woman had worked for her employer for nine years as a National Accounts Manager. In that time she had repeatedly received glowing reviews in her yearly evaluations. She then applied for a newly created position within the company that required both an MBA and ten or more years of marketing experience, both of which the employee satisfied. Shortly thereafter the employee was notified that she would not be interviewed as the employer was giving the job to another applicant; a man without an MBA and with only five years of marketing experience. Motivated by her treatment in the application process, the employee began gathering more information about her employment and learned that she had been continuously paid less than a male National Account Manager, as much as $20,000 at times, and had received smaller bonuses and fewer job benefits. The employee then resigned from her employer on January 13, 2010. She then filed a complaint with the MCHR within 180 days claiming continuous sex discrimination She then filed her lawsuit within 90 days of receiving the right-to-sue letter on January 10, 2012.
The employer filed a motion to dismiss the petition, citing a failure to follow the two-year statute of limitations. The trial judge granted the employer’s motion to dismiss without explanation. The employee then appealed.
On appeal, the court focused on the nature of the employee’s discrimination claim to determine whether she had exceeded the statute of limitations. The court noted that if the only action being challenged was the failure to promote the employee, then the employee would be time barred because that event had occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. However, the court found that the employee had clearly claimed a continuing violation in her decreased pay compared to comparable male employees, and therefore the relevant date of the last discriminatory action was the last date the employee was paid. The court held that because the employee was paid through her resignation date of January 13, 2010, the filing of the lawsuit on January 10, 2012 was within the statute of limitations. The appellate court reversed the decision of the trial court and sent the case back for further proceedings.
Due to the quirks in Missouri state law, it can often be beneficial to file claims of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights rather than the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, individual’s following that route need to be particularly careful that they don’t exceed the two year limitation accidentally, even while following all the other time limits. The plaintiff in Plengemeier ended up having a difference of 72 hours decide between flat out losing her case and having a shot at proving her claims at trial. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you should take action as soon as you can. Missouri NEA members should contact their UniServ Director as quickly as possible.