Depressed Steak ‘n Shake Manager Lacks Bias Claim

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By Jay-Anne Casuga

Nov. 4 — A former Steak ‘n Shake general manager in Missouri can't proceed with a state law disability discrimination claim that he was unlawfully demoted because of his depression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled.

Affirming summary judgment to Steak ‘n Shake on Clarence Cosby's Missouri Human Rights Act bias claim, the Eighth Circuit found that Cosby failed to show his disability contributed to his demotion for poor performance. The decision makers demoted Cosby before they became aware of his depression, the court said.

Additionally, the appeals court held that Cosby didn't prove an intolerable work environment necessary to sustain a constructive discharge claim.

Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote the Nov. 4 opinion, joined by Judges Michael J. Melloy and Lavenski R. Smith.

Disability Not ‘Contributing Factor' in Demotion

To prevail on his MHRA disability discrimination claim, Cosby had to establish that his depression was a contributing factor in his demotion.

The court ruled that Cosby failed to do so.

In November 2010, it said, a district manager and a human resources manager informed Cosby that he was being demoted because his store was underperforming. Several days later, Cosby requested and received short-term disability leave for depression. His demotion went into effect during his absence.

Given that the Steak ‘n Shake officials had no knowledge of Cosby's depression at the time they decided to demote him, the court said Cosby's disability wasn't a contributing factor to the adverse employment action.

Constructive Discharge Claim Fails

The Eighth Circuit also affirmed the summary judgment dismissal of Cosby's constructive discharge claim, which requires proof of intolerable working conditions.

Eight months after returning from his disability leave, Cosby resigned after officials issued him written warnings related to his loss of a driver's license and an incident in which he allegedly grabbed a subordinate's arm. He claimed one official laughed at him when he asked about his future with Steak ‘n Shake.

The appeals court said Cosby failed to show an intolerable work environment. He also never complained about his supervisors before resigning, the court said.

“If an employee quits without giving the employer a reasonable chance to resolve his claim, there has been no constructive discharge,” it said.

Ponder Zimmerman represented Cosby. Ogletree Deakins represented Steak ‘n Shake.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne Casuga in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at