A Blue Springs School District student may proceed with her discrimination suit against the district following a Missouri Supreme Court ruling deeming districts to be “persons” under the public-accommodation provision of the Missouri Human Rights Act.
On May 21, the Court of Appeals Western District quashed part of a preliminary writ that blocked a lower court from proceeding in the case of B.Z., a minor student who in 2015 sued the district and three of its employees for sexual harassment occurring when she was a kindergartner.
The decision follows the case of R.M.A. vs. Blue Springs R-IV School District et al., which involved the same school district. In February, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in that case that the district and the district’s board of education are “persons” and therefore liable under the public-accommodations provisions of the MHRA.
At the time it ruled on R.M.A., the Supreme Court also had B.Z.’s case before it. After the ruling, in April it remanded the case to the Western District for reconsideration in light of R.M.A.
The case made it to the high court after a Jackson County circuit judge and the Western District allowed B.Z.’s discrimination claim to proceed despite the district’s arguments that it was covered by sovereign immunity.
In the opinion, Judge Cynthia L. Martin said the school district’s argument on appeal — that it is a political subdivision and as such, not a “person” liable for discrimination in public accommodation — was resolved by the Supreme Court in R.M.A.
The ruling also upholds the discharge in summary judgment of two of B.Z.’s common-law tort claims, including claims of negligent supervision and breach of fiduciary duty. That decision is in line with what the Western District decided in its initial ruling in the case in May 2018.
The court in its May 21 decision made its preliminary writ permanent on those two claims, finding that the district did not waive sovereign immunity through the purchase of an insurance policy under the Missouri Public Entity Risk Management Fund, also known as MOPERM.
Ashley Ricket of the Ricket Law Firm is representing B.Z. She said it’s a good ruling for her client.
“We’ll continue with our case, so we’re excited,” she said.
Mark D. Katz of Coronado Katz is representing the district. He said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.
“I think that the decision in R.M.A. left the Western District with specific directions as to how to resolve the issue under the MHRA,” he said. “We are obviously heartened by the fact that the Western District was able to uphold the sovereign immunity on the common-law tort claims as it has in the past.”
The case is State ex rel. Blue Springs School District v. Grate, WD81197.