In the current economy, many discussions center around job creation and economic growth. Unemployment rates are high, both nationally and in the State of Missouri. And many of those who are employed are under-employed. Bi-partisan consensus seems to be calling for ways to put unemployed workers back to work and keep them employed. Yet despite this tense economic climate and job outlook, the Missouri Republican Party seems intent on taking rights away from workers and turning back the clock on decades of progress in the area of civil rights while purporting to make the State of Missouri more “pro-business.”
These legislative efforts to trample on the rights of workers are currently contained in Missouri Senate Bill 592 and Missouri House Bill 1219. If either bill becomes law, it will alter the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) and deprive workers of important protections from unlawful job discrimination.
The MHRA prohibits employers from making personnel decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, or disability. The MHRA also protects employees from harassment based on those same protected factors. These legislative bills propose several changes to the MHRA. First, the bills seeks to change the standard of proof from a “contributing factor” to a “motivating” factor, which when coupled with other proposed legal changes in the bills, would make it more difficult for victimized employees to prove their case and recover damages. This change means that an employer would be allowed to consider a prohibited factor (i.e., race, disability, etc.) in making a personnel decision. Second, the Bill proposes to place an artificially low ceiling on the amount of money an employee can recover, even though there has already been a finding that the employer violated the law. Third, if either bill becomes law in their current form, individual managers and supervisors who unlawfully harass or discriminate against an employee will no longer be held legally responsible for their actions. Finally, for workers who report their employers for violations of law (i.e., “whistleblowers”), the bills make it more difficult for those employees to prove their case, and also impose significant limits on what damages can be recovered.
If either of these bills is passed by the Republican-dominated Missouri Senate or Missouri House of Representatives, it would then be up to Governor Jay Nixon to either enact the bill as a law or veto it.
This issue of trying to strip away workers’ rights has become an annual item on the legislative agenda for the Missouri Republican Party, bill sponsor Senator Brad Lager(who is running for Lieutenant Governor of Missouri), the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, and other conservative groups. These proposed impingements on workers’ rights continue to be pressed by certain GOP lawmakers and conservative groups under the guise of making Missouri more business friendly, despite the fact that Missouri consistently ranks high nationally for its business-friendly environment. For example, CNBC ranked Missouri as third in the nation for its low cost of doing business. A similar bill was passed in 2011 by the Missouri legislature, but the bill did not become law because it was vetoed by Governor Nixon.
If you are opposed to this erosion of employment discrimination protections, please contact your Missouri State Senator, your member of the Missouri House of Representatives, and/or Governor Nixon and voice your concerns.