There are many actions employers take that constitute harassment, discrimination or otherwise create a hostile work environment. Even though Missouri is an employment “at will” state, employers may not terminate employees or subject employees to other adverse employment actions as a result of unlawful discrimination. The Missouri Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual because of the individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability. These are considered “protected categories” in Missouri.
Gender Discrimination in the Work Place
It is unlawful in Missouri for employers to treat males different than females in the workplace. Also, an employer may not refuse to hire a particular male or female because of stereotypes of the applicant’s gender. For example, hiring only male bartenders and female waitresses based on gender is prohibited.
Employers sometimes treat women differently from their male co-workers because employers have stereotypes about what is appropriate work for a woman, and they make unfair assumptions about women with family responsibilities. Women workers are often held to higher standards than men for pay and promotions, and women find it extremely difficult to break through the glass ceiling.
Employers must not make any distinction between terms and conditions of employment based upon sex. For example, the employer’s wage schedules must not bear any relation to sex. Employers are also prohibited from making any distinction between married and unmarried persons of one sex that is not made between married and unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Employers are not allowed to exclude applicants or employees from employment because of pregnancy. Discrimination based on pregnancy is prohibited.
Work Place Harassment
Harassment on the basis of sex also violates Missouri law. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. In determining whether alleged harassment amounts to sexual harassment, the totality of the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred, is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The standards of harassment that are actionable under the Missouri Human Rights Act are similarly applied to sexual harassment claims as race harassment claims.
Employers are liable for sexual harassment based on their supervisor’s or other employee’s alleged harassment regardless of whether the specific acts complained of were authorized or forbidden by the employer. If a co-worker or supervisor makes unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriately touches, talks or “jokes” in a sexually suggestive manner, sexually assaults an employee or otherwise creates a hostile work environment based on sex, the employer has an obligation to stop it and keep it from happening again. An employer is vicariously liable to an employee with respect to sexual harassment by a supervisor with immediate or successively higher authority over the employee or other supervisor who the employee reasonably believes has the ability to significantly influence employment decisions.
Race or National Origin Discrimination
Discrimination based on race, color and national origin is illegal. African-Americans and foreign-born workers are often the target of unfair treatment on the job. They are often paid less, fired for reasons that don’t seem to apply to their co-workers and expected to do the most physically demanding, dirtiest jobs. Many times people are passed over for promotions based on race or color.
Race discrimination includes any unfair treatment such as unlawful harassment, termination of employment, and other specific adverse employment actions. The employee who has a discrimination claim will have to show that their race or color was the “contributing factor” at the time of the employment termination or other adverse employment action by the employer.
Employers may not discriminate against potential applicants based upon their national origin or ancestry, where they came from. Examples of unlawful actions include, denying equal opportunity to persons married to or associated with persons of a specific national origin, because of the applicant’s membership in lawful organizations identified with or seeking to promote the interests of national groups, or because the applicant’s name or that of their spouse signifies they are from a specific nation of origin.
Employers by law must reasonably accommodate the disability of their employees, so long as the accommodations do not create overly burdensome hardship or expense. The Americans with Disabilities Act was recently amended to provide the broadest possible protection to employees with all types of physical and mental impairments and illnesses. Both state and federal law also provide protection from all types of unfair treatment on the job because of a disability, a perceived disability, a record of a disability, or an employee’s association with an individual with a disability.
It is also an unlawful employment practice for any employer to discriminate against any person with a visual, hearing or physical disability by interfering – directly or indirectly – with the use of an aid or appliance, including a guide dog, hearing dog or service dog used by such person.
The Missouri Human Rights Act, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires a “reasonable accommodation” as to any known or perceived limitations when the person is otherwise qualified for the job. Reasonable accommodations include making facilities, like bathrooms, readily accessible to the handicapped person; job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, and the provision of readers or interpreters. An employer should make a good faith attempt to accommodate handicapped employees provided the accommodations do not cause an undue hardship to the employer.
Older employees are often the first ones selected for termination when employers reorganize or cut expenses through staff reductions, and they are often moved aside on the job to make room for younger employees. It is also very difficult for individuals in their fifties and sixties to get their foot in the door as a new hire.
In Missouri, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against employees or applicants who are age 40 or older, but less than 70 years of age. Missouri law differs from Federal law, which has no upper age limit for discrimination claims.
Know Your Rights if You Have Experienced Discrimination at Work
If you believe that you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, do not be afraid to take action. Many employees are afraid to file a claim of discrimination out of fear that they will be fired, demoted or punished in some other way. The law actually protects workers in these situations. Employers cannot fire or retaliate against employees who allege discrimination or harassment at work. If you have been terminated from your employment or have faced other adverse employment actions as a result of discrimination, you have the right to have your unfair treatment addressed.
Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at the Benjamin Law Firm immediately for a free consultation if you believe you have an employment discrimination claim. You have a very limited amount of time under Missouri law to file a claim.