Battalion Chief Loses Restroom-Based Sex Discrimination Claim

There is a long history of litigation between Kathleen Kline and the City of Kansas City, Missouri. From 1977 to 2006, Kline worked for the City’s Fire Department. At the time she resigned in 2006, Kline had been promoted several times to reach the position of battalion chief (only the fire chief and deputy chiefs are higher in the chain of command).

In 1994, Kline filed a Title VII lawsuit against the City, claiming she was the victim of sex discrimination. After a jury trial, Kline was awarded damages and a court ordered the City to retroactively promote Kline to the position of battalion chief.

In 1999, Kline filed a second Title VII lawsuit against the City, again alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. This lawsuit alleged that the City discriminated against women by failing to provide locker rooms to female firefighters that were comparable to the ones provided to male firefighters. A jury again returned a verdict in Kline’s favor in 2001.

Kline’s third try proved not to be a charm, however. In 2007, she sued the City under the Missouri Human Rights Act, again claiming sex discrimination. This time Kline alleged that the City discriminated against her by assigning her to fire stations that did not have equal and/or comparable facilities as the Department provided to its male employees, and that the City violated Missouri laws requiring employers to provide separate facilities “for women to wash and dress.”

When a jury found in favor of the City, Kline appealed. The Missouri Court of Appeals turned away Kline’s arguments, and upheld the jury verdict.

One of the key issues in the appeal concerned the two state statutes concerning restrooms. One statute provides that “in every factory, workshop or other establishment in this state where girls or women are employed, where unclean work of any kind has to be performed, suitable places shall be provided for such girls or women to wash and dress.” The other statute requires that “separate water closets shall be provided for the use of employees of either sex in manufacturing, mechanical, mercantile and other establishments in this state where persons of both sexes are employed.”

The Court found that the two statutes were not directly relevant to Kline’s lawsuit. Instead, the Court reasoned, “the question is whether the City’s alleged violation of these Health and Safety statutes is probative of whether the City had discriminatory intent as alleged by Kline. The state discrimination law was enacted to eliminate and prevent discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age as it relates to employment, or disability.

“Kline failed to demonstrate that these statutes constituted evidence that demonstrated a specific link between the alleged discriminatory animus and the challenged decision, sufficient to support a finding that an illegitimate criterion actually motivated the employment decision. Contrary to Kline’s argument, the fact that the City may have been in violation of the statutes is not probative to prove her claim of sex discrimination any more than had the City violated any other employee health and safety law, such as those regulating fire escapes, scaffolding, or ventilation. The City’s alleged violation of these statutes would have no bearing on whether the City discriminated against Kline as it pertained to her employment.”

Kline v. City of Kansas City, 2011 WL 497929 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011).

This article appears in the May 2011 issue.