Missouri: Appeals Court Remands Retaliation Claim by State Employees

State employees at the Missouri Department of Mental Health claimed they were harassed, intimidated, coerced and punished for pursuing worker's compensation cases and sought money and equitable relief. The circuit court found the plaintiffs could not pursue a discrimination claim under 287.780 because the state was immune to tort claims under sovereign immunity except in limited circumstances. The court of appeals agreed in part, but found that sovereign immunity was not an automatic bar to the claim for equitable relief to reverse a prior violation or to prevent future violations. The court left for another day whether a trial court could proper enter specific reparative or preventative injunctive relief. Wyman, etal v Missouri Department of Mental Health, 74062 (Mo. App. WD April 10, 2012), 2012 MO App. Lexis 496.

The plaintiffs argued that strict construction allowed a claim because 287.030’s definition of an employer included the "state" and 287.780 allowed a claim for retaliatory discharge against any "employer". The court was not persuaded that the strict construction allowed reversing decisions that found 105.850 (or the department equivalent 630.070.3) demonstrated an express affirmative intent to preserve immunity against monetary damages.

The court dismissed a statutory claim for retaliation against the manager who was not an "employer" under the Act. The court declined to address whether any common law remedies were available against a co-employee/manager for retaliatory discharge because the issue was not preserved. The court questioned whether 287.780 even applied to a manager. The provision uses the word “agent” but the inconsistent statutory wording “suggests while an employer’s agents can commit prohibited retaliation, they are not themselves subject to a damages claim.”

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug's Mo. Workers' Comp Alerts.

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