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Fuchs v. Dep't of Revenue

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

August 26, 2014

TERRIE FUCHS, Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Respondent

Page 728

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge.

Carla G. Holste, Jefferson City, MO, for appellant.

Brandon D. Laird, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

Before Division Four: Alok Ahuja, Chief Judge, Presiding, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and Randall R. Jackson, Special Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Page 729

Cynthia L. Martin, Judge.

Terrie Fuchs (" Fuchs" ) appeals from the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of her employer, the Department of Revenue (" Employer" ), in her disability discrimination lawsuit. Fuchs argues that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment because it failed to view the facts in the light most favorable to Fuchs and because it erroneously declared and applied the law regarding her claim of discriminatory harassment. Because the trial court erroneously declared the law and because there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute that prevent the entry of judgment as a matter of law, we reverse the grant of summary judgment on Fuchs's claim of discriminatory harassment, and remand this matter for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural History

Fuchs has been continuously employed by the Employer since 1981. While Fuchs has served the Employer in multiple capacities, she began working as a telephone operator at the Employer's call center in 1998 and currently holds that position.

Fuchs suffers from cerebral palsy. Over the term of her employment, Fuchs has suffered several injuries. The combination of her cerebral palsy and injuries has left Fuchs no longer able to stand independently. Fuchs is confined to a wheelchair and requires assistance to use the restroom. At work, this assistance is provided by co-workers.

In December 2010, Fuchs filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (" Commission" ) against the Employer.[1] Fuchs filed a second charge of discrimination with the Commission in April 2011 alleging retaliation by the Employer for Fuchs's filing of the previous charge of discrimination. The Commission issued Fuchs right to sue notices on both charges.

Page 730

Fuchs timely filed a petition against Employer alleging two counts relevant to this appeal.[2] The first count asserted that Fuchs's " disability contributed, in whole or in part, to [the Employer's] adverse employment actions towards and harassment of" Fuchs. The second count asserted that Fuchs's " exercise of her rights under the Missouri Human Rights Act (" MHRA" ) contributed, in whole or in part, to [the Employer's] improper and illegal retaliation of" Fuchs.

During discovery, Fuchs testified in a deposition that she has never been suspended, had her pay docked, salary changed, benefits reduced, job duties or titles changed, or been required to use extra leave time by the Employer due to her disability. Following discovery, the Employer filed a motion for summary judgment (" Motion" ). The Motion asserted that as a matter of law, Fuchs would not be able to establish either a prima facie case of disability discrimination based on an adverse employment action, or a prima facie case of discriminatory retaliation, because the uncontroverted facts established that the Employer took no adverse employment action against her. The Motion also asserted that " [t]o the extent that Ms. Fuchs is attempting to allege harassment, the statements [she alleges were made by the Employer] do not rise to an actionable claim of harassment" because they were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect a term, condition, or privilege of her employment.

Following response from Fuchs, the trial court granted the Motion and entered summary judgment in favor of the Employer. The trial court's judgment construed Fuchs's petition to assert three independent claims -- disability discrimination based on an adverse employment action, discriminatory harassment, and discriminatory retaliation. The trial court concluded that summary judgment was appropriate as a matter of law on each of these claims because Fuchs could not establish that an adverse employment action was taken against her by the Employer. The trial court alternatively ruled that summary judgment was appropriate on the discriminatory ...


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