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Missouri Supreme Court extends LGBTQ protections in rulings

One of the cases dealt with employment rights and the other with transgender students’ access to public facilities.

The Missouri Supreme Court extended legal protections Tuesday to LGBTQ people in two separate rulings. One of the cases dealt with employment rights and the other with transgender students’ access to public facilities.

In one case, Lampley v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, the court affirmed that Missouri law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of a worker’s failure to conform to sex-based stereotypes. An employee who is discriminated against because of how they are expected to act has a legal basis to file a legal action, the court ruled.

“Sexual orientation is incidental and irrelevant to sex stereotyping,” the court wrote. “An employee may demonstrate this discrimination through evidence of sexual stereotyping.”

The ruling came in the action brought by Harold Lampley and Rene Frost against the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. Lampley argued that because he is gay and did not conform to the stereotypical expectations of how a male should behave, he was harassed at his place of employment, the Missouri Department of Social Services’ Child Support Enforcement Division. He also alleged that when he complained about the harassment, he received a poor evaluation in retaliation, according to court documents. Frost, a coworker of Lampley’s, claimed that due to their close friendship, she, too, was discriminated against. Tuesday’s ruling instructs the Commission to issue them right-to-sue letters.

The state Supreme Court also ruled in favor of a transgender student who sued his Missouri school district in October 2015 after he was not permitted to use the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. The student, referred to only as R.M.A. in court documents, said he has identified as a male since fourth grade. Though the district updated his school records to reflect his name change and allowed him to play sports and take physical education classes with male students, it did not allow R.M.A. access to male facilities.

The case, R.M.A. v. Blue Springs R-IV School District, was originally dismissed by a circuit court, but R.M.A. appealed. It was taken to the state’s high court in April, which ruled that because R.M.A. argued discrimination on the basis of sex, the case should move forward in the lower court.

“By recognizing that Missouri's prohibition on sex discrimination applies to all Missourians, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, this ruling reaffirms what our legislature declared in the Missouri Human Rights Act,” Alexander Edelman, R.M.A.’s attorney, said in a statement to NBC News.

The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age and familial status, but it does not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity. The ACLU of Missouri, which filed a friend-of-the-court in both cases, said the decisions are a step toward improving the clarity of the state’s anti-discrimination stance.

“Members of the LGBTQ community should enjoy the same protections against sex-based discrimination as everyone else,” Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri, said. “Excluding LGBTQ individuals from legal protections was justified by outdated, destructive stereotypes and ignored the lived reality of thousands of people in our state.”

Ryan Thoreson, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that while Tuesday’s decisions are “positive and have important practical applications,” he is advocating for legislation that explicitly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We’ve done research with people who’ve avoided going to health care providers because of fear of discrimination,” Thoreson said. “More explicit legislation makes people aware of what protections they have.”

Thoreson said Tuesday’s rulings may “pave the way” for the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), which lists sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories and has been pending in the state legislature since 1998.