Government & Politics

Missouri court ruling is ‘historic’ for LGBT workers, advocates say

Associated Press file photo

LGBT advocates say a ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District three-judge panel is “historic,” and will provide a path to legal recourse for LGBT Missourians facing discrimination in the workplace.

The Missouri Human Rights Act does not protect against discrimination for sexual orientation.

But it does protect against discrimination based on sex.

The Missouri Court of Appeals deemed that state worker Harold Lampley’s argument — that he was a victim of sex stereotyping — falls under the umbrella of discrimination based on sex, and that a person’s sexual orientation does not affect that.

“If an employer mistreats a male employee because the employer deems the employee insufficiently masculine, it is immaterial whether the male employee is gay or straight,” wrote Judge Anthony Rex Gabbert in the ruling.

“The prohibition against sex discrimination extends to all employees, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

In 2014, Lampley filed charges of sex discrimination and retaliation against his employer — the State of Missouri’s Office of Administration Child Support Enforcement Division — under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

The suit alleged his employer discriminated against him based on sex, because the way he acted and looked “contradicted the stereotypes of maleness held by his employer and managers,” according to court documents.

Those stereotypes motivated his employer to harass him and treat him differently than similar employees who conformed to gender stereotypes, according to the suit. He also claimed he was underscored in a performance evaluation in retaliation for his complaint.

Another plaintiff in the suit is Rene Frost, a friend and coworker, who alleged retaliation because she associated with Lampley.

The ruling is a step in the right direction for protecting LGBT people in Missouri in the workplace, said Steph Perkins, executive director for PROMO, a statewide LGBT equal rights organization.

“While sex stereotyping doesn’t specifically include sexual orientation, sex stereotyping is often used against the LGBT community,” Perkins said. “It’s that expectation that we put on about how men should be men and women should be women. We often see that toward the LGBT community if a women dresses or acts more masculine than an employer thinks she should, or if a man dresses or acts more feminine than an employer thinks he should, which is what this case was about.”

“Oftentimes discrimination happens for a number of reasons. Even if it feels like sexual orientation discrimination, it may be sex stereotyping or harassment.”

Perkins said PROMO is still pushing for the state to pass a comprehensive non-discrimination law.

A bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Missouri Human Rights Act was first introduced to the Missouri Legislature in 1998, but hasn’t had much traction. That bill passed the Missouri Senate in 2013, and had its first House debate this past session.

Earlier this year, a Missouri law making it harder for workers to win discrimination cases was signed by Gov. Eric Greitens.

A group of lawmakers wanted to amend it to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s discrimination law.

In Missouri, a person can be fired from their job, evicted from their apartment or kicked out of a restaurant for being gay or being perceived as gay.

Rep. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and one of only three openly gay state legislators, said state law punishes people for who they are.

“I was born gay. I’m gay today,” he told The Star earlier this year. “And it’s just a part of who I am.”

But Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, said extending discrimination protections to LGBT Missourians could infringe on religious liberty.

“When you look at the tenets of religion, of the Bible, of the Qu’ran, of other religions,” he said earlier, “there is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being.”

The amendment was withdrawn before a vote was taken.

Last week, Jefferson City received the lowest score possible — 0 — on the “Municipality Equality Index.” The ranking of more than 500 cities was compiled in part by the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates and lobbies on behalf of the LGBT community.

The Missouri capital was among just 10 other cities in the country to receive a score of 0.

The ranking was based on a number of factors, including: non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people’s employment, housing and public accommodations; and having leaders who publicly support the LGBT community and propose pro-equality legislation.

The Star’s Max Londberg and Jason Hancock contributed to this report.

Kelsey Ryan: 816-234-4852, @kelsey_ryan