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Missouri woman accuses county commission of discrimination

A Missouri woman says that a county commission refused to appoint her to a position on the county's planning and zoning board because of her affiliation with a local environmental group. Although not a traditional employment discrimination case, the woman's claim illustrates how discrimination issues may arise outside the context of one's protected class status under the civil rights laws.

The woman in question was a board member of the Labadie Environmental Organization, a local group fighting utility company Ameren's plans to build a coal ash waste facility in the county. The group had sued the county commission, claiming that it improperly adopted rules that allowed Ameren to construct the facility. A circuit court judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year but the organization is now appealing.

The woman resigned from her position with Labadie Environmental Organization while running for county commission last year, but rejoined after losing the election. When a position became open on the county planning and zoning board, she applied but was denied an interview despite holding a certification in planning and zoning. The presiding county commissioner told her she was not being considered for the position because of her affiliation with the environmental group. Instead, the commission interviewed and selected an individual who is employed by Ameren, the company that is building the waste facility. The county commission denies that the individual's employment had any bearing on his appointment.

While it is illegal for all employers to reject a candidate for employment because of the candidate's protected class status, such as race, gender, age or religion, public employers also may not discriminate on the basis of the candidate's political affiliation or beliefs. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. It is unclear whether the woman in this case intends to pursue legal action against the county.

Source: Missourian, "Woman Claims County Discriminated Against Her With Board Appointment", Josh Mitchell, May 24, 2013

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