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Appeals court affirms verdict for racial hostility at auto plant

Scott Lauck//December 22, 2022

Appeals court affirms verdict for racial hostility at auto plant

Scott Lauck//December 22, 2022

The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on Dec. 13 affirmed a $1.75 million judgment for a Black woman who faced racial discrimination at an automotive plant in Liberty.

A Clay County jury in 2021 awarded Sherice Renee Miller-Weaver more than $1.2 million on her claims of a hostile work environment at Dieomatic Inc., which does business as LMV Automotive Systems. The court later added $516,879 in attorneys’ fees and $10,177 in costs to the judgment.

Miller-Weaver, who worked in the company’s human resources department from 2015 to 2017, said managers refused to address issues ranging from more favorable treatment of white employees to workers who would display clothing or vehicles emblazoned with the Confederate flag.

She also had alleged that she was fired in November 2017 as a result of her complaints. The jury, however, rejected her retaliation claim.

Miller-Weaver’s termination came a few months after state lawmakers overhauled Missouri’s employment discrimination laws, instituting a stricter causation standard and capping damages for employers of LMV’s size at $500,000. Her February 2018 charge of discrimination had to be filed with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights within six months of the conduct, and LMV argued that she couldn’t base her claim on conduct that occurred before the statute change while citing incidents shortly before her firing to prove that her claim was timely.

The Western District, however, said the pre-2017 version of the statute applied, as most of the hostility the plaintiff endured occurred before the effective date of the new law. Judge Karen King Mitchell pointed to an email the plaintiff sent to LMV management in 2016 detailing the racial hostility she faced.

“Ironically, that email also contains the reason she did not bring her claim then,” Mitchell wrote. “Her objective was to enlist management’s help in ending the hostility.” Judges Cynthia L. Martin and Anthony Rex Gabbert concurred.

The court remanded the case for a determination of Miller-Weaver’s attorneys’ fees and costs on appeal. She was represented at trial and on appeal by Bert Braud and Dennis Egan of The Popham Law Firm in Kansas City.

The original trial was before Judge Janet Sutton, who is now a member of the Western District. The court said she didn’t take part in the case.

The case is Miller-Weaver v. Dieomatic Inc., WD85078.

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