FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF SAINT LOUIS CITY. The Honorable
Christopher Edward McGraugh, Judge.
university was represented by James R. Layton of Tueth,
Kenney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt PC in St. Louis, and Mark
J. Bremer and D. Leo Human of Shands, Elbert, Gianolakis &
Giljum LLP in St. Louis.
was represented by Jonathan C. Berns of Dobson, Goldberg,
Berns & Rich LLP in St. Louis, and Matthew Ghio of Ghio Law
Firm LLC in St. Louis.
Lin filed suit against Washington University (" the
University" ) and Dr. Matthew Ellis for retaliation
pursuant to section 213.070 of the Missouri Human
Rights Act (" MHRA" ), claiming her request
for a reasonable accommodation of her herniated discs was a
protected activity. A jury returned a verdict in Dr.
Lin's favor against the University but relieved Dr. Ellis
of any liability. The University appeals, raising five claims
of error. This Court finds the University's first point
alleging the circuit court erred in denying the University
judgment notwithstanding the verdict (" JNOV" )
because Dr. Lin failed to submit a cognizable claim under the
MHRA is dispositive. This Court holds merely requesting an
accommodation is insufficient to support a claim of
retaliation under the plain language of the MHRA because such
a request, standing alone, does not constitute opposition to
a practice prohibited by the MHRA, nor does it constitute the
filing of a complaint, testifying, assisting, or
participating in any investigation, proceeding or hearing
conducted under the MHRA. The circuit
court's judgment is reversed, and the case is
Factual and Procedural History
Lin was employed by the University's school of medicine
as a staff scientist from 1996 until 2012. Dr. Lin held
numerous positions working in various laboratories, each
supervised by a different lead researcher. Each time Dr.
Lin's position was eliminated due to funding restraints
or supervisory departures, Dr. Lin timely secured a new
position with a different University laboratory.
2004, Dr. Lin began research work on a breast cancer project
supervised by Dr. Ellis. Dr. Lin worked in Dr. Ellis'
laboratory until her termination in 2012. Dr. Lin performed
cell or tissue culture work, which required her to work under
a hood to ensure the cultures remained in a sterile
environment. During this time, Dr. Lin began experiencing
chronic back pain and was diagnosed with two herniated discs.
Dr. Lin informed Dr. Ellis of her diagnosis and requested
accommodation to avoid tasks that aggravated her condition.
Dr. Ellis provided the requested accommodation.
2010, Dr. Lin trained to perform microarray work pursuant to
grant funding (" the R01 Grant" ). In 2011, Dr.
Lin's back pain worsened, and she requested to be excused
from performing certain laboratory tasks requiring her to
work at a bench with her back bent for extended periods of
time. Dr. Ellis accommodated this request and assigned Dr.
Lin to perform microarray work for the R01 Grant, which did
not exacerbate her herniated discs.
mid-2012, Dr. Lin had a disagreement with a colleague, which
resulted in a complaint being filed against her. Dr. Ellis
forwarded this complaint to a University research
administrator and asked human resources to initiate a process
" with a view to terminating" Dr. Lin's
position. At this same time, Dr. Ellis was informed funding
for the microarray work under the R01 ...