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Tuttle v. Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, Inc.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

December 24, 2019



          Zel M. Fischer, Judge.

         Dwight Tuttle appeals a judgment dismissing his claims for relief under the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") for age discrimination and retaliation. Because Tuttle was not aggrieved by any alleged act to have occurred in Missouri, the express provisions of the MHRA coupled with the presumption against extraterritorial application of laws precludes this Court from applying the MHRA to Tuttle's claims. The circuit court's judgment is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, Inc. is a corporation formed under the laws of Missouri with its headquarters in Jefferson County, Missouri. Dobbs Tire owns and operates tire and automotive service stores in several counties in both Missouri and Illinois. Tuttle was employed by Dobbs Tire from March 1989 until March 2017. From July 2003 until November 2016, he served as the store manager of Dobbs Tire's Shiloh, Illinois, store. Tuttle alleges he was a satisfactory employee and received numerous awards. However, Tuttle alleges that, since 2015, he became the subject of discriminatory employment practices because of his age.[1]

In pertinent part, Tuttle alleges the following:
(1) Dustin Dobbs[2] informed Tuttle he would never receive another raise during his employment with Dobbs Tire;
(2) Dobbs Tire transferred a number of illegitimate expenses to the Shiloh store, which distorted the profit numbers of the Shiloh store, and reflected poorly on Tuttle's managerial abilities;
(3) Dobbs Tire transferred Tuttle to its Fairview Heights, Illinois store which had a history of lower sales volume than the Shiloh store;[3]
(4) Tuttle was forced to sign a document accepting his transfer to the Fairview Heights store that also stated Tuttle could be terminated if the Fairview Heights store did not improve its performance;
(5)Younger store managers did not have to sign a similar document when they were transferred to other stores; and
(6) After the profit and loss statement for the Fairview Heights store had been completed for 2016, Tuttle's regional manager told him, "I hope you have your resume out and are looking for another job."

Because of these alleged actions taken by Dobbs Tire, Tuttle considered himself constructively discharged and tendered his resignation March 13, 2017.

         Tuttle timely filed a charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("MCHR") and was issued a notice of his right to sue by the MCHR on October 16, 2017. Tuttle filed the instant lawsuit in St. Louis County, claiming both age discrimination in violation of § 213.055[4] and retaliation[5] in violation of § 213.070. Tuttle alleged that because "[o]ne or more of the discriminatory decisions or actions taken against the Plaintiff alleged herein took place in the State of Missouri," jurisdiction and venue were proper in the circuit court. Dobbs Tire filed a motion to dismiss arguing, among other reasons, Tuttle's petition did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the MHRA does not apply to an Illinois employee who faced alleged discriminatory acts in Illinois. The circuit court dismissed Tuttle's petition with prejudice but did not specify its reasons for the dismissal. Tuttle appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's judgment in an unpublished memorandum. This Court granted transfer and has jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10.

         Standard of Review

         "This Court reviews the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss de novo." Cope v. Parson, 570 S.W.3d 579, 583 (Mo. banc 2019). "A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted is solely a test of the adequacy of the petition." Id. (quoting Bromwell v. Nixon, 361 S.W.3d 393, 398 (Mo. banc 2012)). "When considering whether a petition fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, this Court must accept all properly pleaded facts as true, giving the pleadings their broadest intendment, and construe all allegations favorably to the pleader." Id. When the circuit court does not specify its reasons for dismissing a plaintiff's petition, this Court presumes the circuit court's dismissal was based on one of the reasons stated in the motion to dismiss. Avery Contracting, LLC v. Niehaus, 492 S.W.3d 159, 162 (Mo. ...

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