Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable
Daniel R. Green, Judge
Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Lisa White
Hardwick, Judge, Gary D. Witt, Judge
D. Witt, Judge
Christopher Klee ("Klee") appeals from the judgment
of the Circuit Court of Cole County denying his petition for
judicial review of a non-contested case pursuant to section
536.150. Klee had filed a complaint under the
Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") with the
Respondent the Missouri Human Rights Commission
("MHRC") claiming unlawful discrimination in his
conditions of employment with the Southeast Missouri Mental
Health Center ("SMMHC"). The MHRC dismissed
Klee's complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Klee filed
this action with the circuit court, seeking review of the
MHRC's dismissal of his complaint. The circuit court
found that Klee was not protected by the MHRA as he was not
an employee of SMMHC. Klee now raises two points on appeal
challenging the circuit court's judgment. We reverse and
was admitted as a patient of SMMHC on November 29, 2010,
after pleading not guilty by reasons of mental disease or
defect under section 552.040, and was diagnosed by his
treating psychiatrist with pedophilia, non-exclusive type.
SMMHC is a part of the Missouri Department of Mental Health,
a state agency. Klee resides at and receives services from
March 9, 2011, Klee began to perform part-time work for
SMMHC. Klee primarily worked as a dishwasher, but has also
worked to help build a greenhouse and grow food. For the
years 2011 through 2013, Klee received compensation from
SMMHC for his work in the form of wages. He is currently paid
$7.71 per hour and has never been paid less than minimum
wage. In 2011, Klee earned $1, 762.70. He had elected on his
W-4, the Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, to
have $50 withheld from every paycheck. In 2012, Klee earned
$4, 729.41 in wages and on his W-4 elected to have $100
withheld from every paycheck. In 2013, Klee earned $4, 321.25
in wages and on his W-4 elected to have $200 withheld from
every paycheck. For each of these years, Klee's W-2 form
listed Klee as an employee and the State of Missouri as his
March 19, 2013, Klee was told by his psychiatrist Dr. Veera
Reddy ("Dr. Reddy") that he had to file a second
W-4 form with a decrease in deductions or else he would be
terminated from his job. Pursuant to a state regulation,
SMMHC was able to automatically deduct from Klee's
paycheck a certain percentage of his wages for reimbursement
of his care. SMMHC felt that Klee was "gaming the
system" by taking too large a withholding from his
check, thereby depriving the State of Missouri of the
compensation to which it was entitled. Klee did as he was
instructed and filed a new W-4 form.
August 26, 2013, Klee filed a charge of discrimination based
on his disability with the MHRC. The MHRC provided to Klee on
April 24, 2014 a Notice of Termination of Proceedings in
which it made an administrative finding that it lacked
jurisdiction over the claim because there was no
employer-employee relationship between Klee and SMMHC.
to section 536.150, Klee filed his Petition for
Administrative Review of the MHRC's decision with the
Circuit Court of Cole County, which was subsequently amended.
A hearing on the matter was held before the circuit court at
which evidence was presented.
evidence at the hearing established that Klee has been seeing
his psychiatrist, Dr. Reddy, at SMMHC for approximately five
years. Klee works at SMMHC and receives wages in return, even
though patients are not required to work. Dr. Reddy testified
that SMMHC wants all patients to work to improve their
self-esteem and keep their job skills so that they have those
skills when they leave the facility. Both Dr. Reddy and Work
Therapy Specialist Ms. Lisa Nokes ("Ms. Nokes") did
not believe Klee's disability would have prevented him
from performing the job tasks he was assigned at SMMHC. Ms.
Nokes is in charge of assessing clients, placing them in the
therapeutic work program, and assessing their progress and
behaviors on an ongoing basis. Klee, in performing his work
duties, is given a work shift and is required to arrive and
leave work at a particular time.
Kelly LaBruyere ("Ms. LaBruyere"), a Reimbursement
Officer at SMMHC, has a case load of consumers, patients and
clients for whom she is responsible in determining whether
those individuals have resources with which they can
reimburse the State for their treatment. The Department of
Mental Health applies, pursuant to 9 CSR 10-31.011(10), the
standard means test, which requires the department to apply
toward the cost of a client's services forty percent of
all net earned income exceeding $100 per month for working
clients. Klee is on the payroll of SMMHC.
5, 2016, the circuit court affirmed the determination of the
MHRC that there was no employer-employee relationship between
Klee and SMMHC for two reasons. First, the circuit court
found that Klee meets a statutory exception to the definition
of "employee" as defined by section 290.500(3).
Second, the circuit court found that considering Klee an
employee would be inconsistent with the MHRA. Klee appeals.
bringing claims under the MHRA pursuant to section 213.055
may, within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination,
file a complaint with the MHRC. Any person aggrieved by the
order of the MHRC may appeal as provided in Chapter 536.
See Section 213.075.16. Section 536.150.1 authorizes
review by "suit for injunction, certiorari, mandamus,
prohibition or other appropriate action . . . . "
appeal from the circuit court's review of a non-contested
administrative decision, we review the circuit court's
judgment, not the administrative agency's decision."
Spurgeon v. Mo. Consolidated Health Care Plan, 481
S.W.3d 604, 606 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016).
Appellate review of the circuit court's judgment in a
noncontested case is essentially the same as the review for a
court-tried case. [State ex rel. Straatmann Enter., Inc.
v. County of Franklin, 4 S.W.3d 641, 645 (Mo. App. W.D.
1999).] Thus, the scope of appellate review is governed by
Rule 73.01 as construed in Murphy v. Carron, 536
S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976). Cade v. State, 990 S.W.2d
32, 37 (Mo. App. W.D. 1999). Accordingly, the appellate court
reviews the circuit court's judgment to determine whether
its finding that the agency decision was or was not
unconstitutional, unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary,
capricious, or the product of an abuse of discretion rests on
substantial evidence and correctly declares and applies the
Mo. Nat'l Educ. Assoc. v. Mo. State Bd. of
Educ., 34 S.W.3d 266, 274-75 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000);
see also Sch. Dist. of Kansas City, Mo. v. Mo. Bd. of
Fund Comm'rs, 384 S.W.3d 238, 264 (Mo. App. W.D.
Point One, Klee argues the circuit court erred in finding
that he meets a statutory exception to the definition of
"employee" under section 290.500(3)(b) as the
Missouri Human Rights Act does not define
"employee" and it was legal error to apply the
statutory exception relied upon by the trial court to deny
his employee status. Klee argues there was ...