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Gays not protected by Missouri's human rights law, court rules

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The Missouri Human Rights Act's protection against sex discrimination does not extend to sexual orientation, says a divided state appeals court in dismissing a lawsuit filed by a gay man.

James Pittman worked as a controller for Overland Park, Kansas-based Cook Paper Recycling Corp., which did business in Missouri, from April 2004 until his termination in December 2011, during which time he was allegedly subjected to comments of a sexual nature by the company president, according to Tuesday's ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western district in Kansas City in James Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp.

Mr. Pittman filed suit against the company, charging sex discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation. A circuit court in Kansas City, Missouri, dismissed the case, and the appeals court upheld the ruling.

“The plain language of the Missouri Human Rights Act is clear and unambiguous,” said the appeals court's 2-1 majority opinion.

“Employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of their 'sex.' The clear meaning prohibiting discrimination based upon 'sex' under the Missouri Human Rights Act intended by the Missouri legislature … has nothing to do with sexual orientation.”

“Unlike many other states, the Missouri legislature has not enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals by adding sexual orientation as protected class,” said the ruling. “It could have done so” had it so desired, said the ruling.

The dissenting judge's opinion states: “Given the fact that the Missouri Human Rights Act is a remedial statute to be construed liberally to include those cases within the spirit of the law with all reasonable doubts to be construed in favor of applicability to the case, I would find that Pittman stated a claim” under the act “and leave it to the jury to decide whether Pittman can provide the elements necessary to prevail on his claim of sexual harassment.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 22 states and the District of Columbia prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Current federal law does not explicitly extend civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

In July, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held in a < a href="/article/20150717/NEWS06/150719848">divided ruling applicable only to federal workers that workplace sexual orientation discrimination is illegal under federal law.