Lay v. State Dept. of Military Affairs

Lay v. State Dept. of Military Affairs, 2015 MT 158 (June 10, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether Lay’s claims were time-barred as a matter of law under the Montana Human Rights Act.

Short Answer: Yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Monique Lay’s position as public information officer for the Emergency Servics Division of the State Department of Military Affairs was eliminated pursuant to the division’s reduction-in-force (RIF) policy. Lay filed a grievance with the Department of Labor and Industry Hearings Bureau, alleging the division terminated her in retaliation for her complaint that Jessica Davies, another employee, had received favorable treatment for engaging in a sexual relationship with division supervisor Paul Grimstad. The hearings bureau conducted a hearing and dismissed Lay’s complaint, concluding the division terminated Lay for business reasons related to the RIF. The bureau told Lay she could appeal to the district court, but she did not.

Lay then filed a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Bureau. A department officer investigated, and on August 13, 2012, the department issued a decision concluding Lay’s allegations were not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. In its written order, the department told Lay that she had 90 days under the Montana Human Rights Act to file a civil action. She did not do so.

Lay filed this action in state court on January 9, 2013. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding Lay’s claims were time-barred as a matter of law under the Montana Human Rights Act, which provided the exclusive remedy for Lay’s claims. Lay appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Lay argues the MHRA is inapplicable to her claims. She contends that her complaint alleges a violation of her constitutional right to due process based on the department’s failure to consider her skills, qualifications, experience, performance and length of service as required under the RIF policy.

The gravamen of Lay’s complaint is that her employment was terminated because she objected to Davies’ favorable treatment for engaging in a sexual relationship with Grimstad. Sexual favoritism and retaliation are the only allegations in the complaint; without them, Lay would have no actionable claim. The district court properly held that Lay’s claims were subject to the MHRA, and were time-barred.