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Bill to change Missouri’s employment discrimination law on Governor’s desk

March 14th, 2012  |  Deborah Hammonds

Waiting on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s desk is a controversial bill that would change the Missouri Human Rights Act by altering the burden of proof that plaintiffs must demonstrate in employment discrimination cases. The bill would make it harder for employment discrimination plaintiffs to prevail.

The Missouri Senate passed HB 1219 last week before sending the bill to the Governor Nixon for his signature. The senate had previously passed another bill, but took up an identical version passed by the house.

Under the new measure, it would no longer be sufficient for employees to show that bias played a contributing factor in an adverse employment decision. Instead, in order to prevail, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that discrimination played a motivating role. However, when a decision or action has an adverse impact, courts are required to rely on federal antidiscrimination laws.

The measure also addresses the definition of an employer. Under HB 1219, persons acting in the interest of employers would no longer be considered an employer under the Missouri Human Rights Act and, therefore, would no longer be subject to liability for discriminatory practices. Similarly, individuals employed by employers and tax exempt private membership clubs (that are not labor organizations) would be excluded from the definition of employer. The measure defines an employer as a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce that has six or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year.

Additionally, the bill sets caps on the amount of damages, including punitive damages, an employee may recover. Caps are tied to the size of the employer, and range from $50,000 to $300,000.

News reports indicate that House Republicans view the bill among their key successes so far this session and that it, along with the new workers’ compensation bill, will encourage businesses to create more jobs in the state. However, there are calls for the Governor to veto the bill, as he has with similar legislation in the past. The Governor is reportedly reviewing the bill.