Bill that Would Make Suing for Discrimination Harder Sent to Governor

MCNS Staff

Missouri House of Representatives

Missouri House of Representatives

House Republicans have sent a controversial bill that would make it harder to sue for housing and workplace discrimination to the governor to be signed. The bill has been staunchly opposed by civil rights groups and Democrats.

The proposal, introduced by Sen. Gary Romine, would require plaintiffs to explicitly prove discrimination based on race, gender or any other protected status actually motivated their boss or colleague to mistreat them to win an employment discrimination case. It had survived a heated Senate filibuster to move on to the House.

Previous legislation, in place for about a decade, only required plaintiffs to prove that discrimination was a “contributing factor” in their mistreatment for them to win the case.

The bill would also prevent workplace suits against fellow employees, instead forcing suits against only companies. It also would cap damages consistent with the size of the sued company for winning plaintiffs, and would eliminate protections for whistleblowers.

According to local reports, Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, first argued that the burden of proof was too high because plaintiffs would have to prove that their protected class was the sole reason for their mistreatment. Unfair bosses could escape accusation of discrimination by claiming an employee coming in late was “the motivating factor” for a firing, he said.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, criticized a part of the proposal that would exempt individuals from discrimination lawsuits, something he said baffled his constituents.

Democrats also cited Romine’s own situation as the owner of a rent-to-own furniture store chain that was sued for racial discrimination in 2015 as a selfish reason why the sponsoring representative introduced the bill.

According to stltoday.com, Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, made an impassioned speech before the final vote, beginning with some of the racial slurs that a plaintiff said a manager in Romine’s store used toward black employees, including several with the N-word, before making a final appeal.

“This bill is wrong,” reports the online St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I should not … be forced to press a button about making discrimination harder to prove.” Some colleagues supported his plea.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, echoed those concerns, according to stltoday.com.

“In 2017, the Missouri Legislature should have a no-tolerance stance against discrimination,” she is reported to have said. “Gutting the Missouri Human Rights Act undermines what should be a common-sense way to deal with discrimination, harassment and intimidation in the modern day workplace.”

Though Governor Greitens has not stated whether he will sign the proposal, he is expected to pass the measure based on some pro-business promises he made while campaigning.

 

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