The legislature has sent Governor Eric Greitens (R) a bill that would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace.
Senate Bill 43 would require a former employee to prove that his or her age, race, gender, disability or ethnicity was the main reason he or she was fired rather than one among other reasons. Republicans said the bill is needed because the courts have allowed too many cases of alleged workplace discrimination to proceed.
The House’s handler of SB 43, Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton), said the legislation responds to Supreme Court decisions that lowered the standard in employment discrimination cases.
“Senate Bill 43, in my opinion, isn’t even tort reform. It’s undoing judicial activism,” said McGaugh. “So what’s the effect of the court playing legislature? Even the most meritless cases have to be decided by a jury. Employers are required to spend thousands of dollars defending completely baseless claims brought by lawyers arguing anything that can contribute.”
The bill also places limits on the damages that can be awarded to successful plaintiffs, exempts from liability supervisors and managers who are not employers, and limits protections for whistleblowers.
The legislation cleared the House on a Republican-led 98-30 vote, but it had Republican opposition.
Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) spoke against the measure’s whistleblower section.
“The proponents have not identified a problem with whistleblower law in the State of Missouri. There is not a spate of whistleblower cases in this state,” said Barnes. “The whistleblower portion eliminates protections for the employees most likely to know about illegal activity in their employer.”
Democrats said the legislation would make it easier for workplace discrimination to occur and go unpunished, and argue it represents a conflict of interest because its senate sponsor, Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), is the owner of a business that is the subject of a pending discrimination lawsuit.
St. Louis Representative Bruce Franks, Junior, read a series of racial slurs cited in that case and called the bill unacceptable.
McGaugh said the legislation has been filed for years, long before there was a case against Romine’s company.
“If you’ve been in this body more than one year you’ve voted on this multiple times,” said McGaugh. “Everything that we’re going to talk about today this body has seen before and we’ve talked about before.”
The House debated the bill for more than five hours Monday, rejecting five amendments, before voting to pass the bill the Senate had proposed. It’s now up to Governor Grietens whether it will become law.