We have discussed in this blog before the migration of discrimination claims to Iowa state courts rather than federal courts.   The trend is driven by a number of factors, including the recognition in 2005 of the right to a jury trial under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) and the greater propensity of federal courts to grant summary judgment.

Another important factor in a plaintiff’s decision to choose state or federal court will be the type of discrimination alleged.    For example, as a result of the ADA Amendments, disability claims are more likely to end up in federal court.   Just the opposite is true, however, with respect to age discrimination claims. The Eighth Circuit’s recent decision in Clark v. Matthews International Corporation confirms that assessment.

The Plaintiff in Clark alleged age discrimination under both the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).   The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer on both claims. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the ADEA claim, but reversed on the MHRA claim.   The Court found the plaintiff’s evidence was not sufficient to generate a genuine dispute under the ADEA’s “but for” standard. However, the court declined to rule as a matter of law on the MHRA claim.    Under the MHRA, a plaintiff must prove age was a “contributing factor” in the decision, which the court concluded was less demanding than the ADEA’s standard.

The evidence in question included the following:

  • Plaintiff’s supervisor asked him if he was “just trying to make it to retirement.”
  • The same supervisor suggested to another employee that he could “always become a Wal-Mart greeter.”
  • The company sent unsolicited mailings from the AARP to employees when they turned 56 years old

The test under the ICRA is whether age was “a motivating factor” in the employment decision. This is similar to the standard under the Missouri law, and certainly less demanding that the “but for” test under the ADEA.   If Clark is any indication, it will not take much less evidence to survive summary judgment for an ICRA claim than an ADEA claim.