Friday, March 18, 2016

"Contributing Factor" and the Missouri Human Rights Act

A plaintiff alleging discrimination based on sex or another protected characteristic can prevail under the Missouri Human Rights Act by establishing that the characteristic was a "contributing factor" in the defendant's adverse employment decision. This is a lower threshold, at least theoretically, than the "motivating factor" standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

In Denn v. CSL Plasma, Inc., 15-1494 (Mar. 16, 2016), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit explained:
[T]he Missouri Supreme Court has recognized that the "contributing factor" standard, which stems from the MHRA's prohibition of "any unfair treatment," is less rigorous than the "motivating factor" standard employed in federal discrimination cases under Title VII. This distinction has led Missouri to abandon the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis applied in federal cases.
As discussed in a previous post, I find the "motivating factor" standard rather amorphous, so not surprisingly, I find the difference between motivating factor causation and contributing factor causation even more difficult to get a handle on. 

In Denn, the court concluded that the plaintiff could not prevail under the contributing factor standard, so it follows that, in the court's view, the plaintiff also could not have prevailed under the higher motivating factor standard. Much more helpful in understanding the difference between the two standards would be a case in which the facts were sufficient for a plaintiff to prevail under the contributing factor standard but not under the motivating factor standard. 

This blog reflects the views solely of its author. It is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice on how to analyze any particular set of facts.