JEFFERSON CITY – A group of African American lawmakers today vowed to oppose legislation making its way through the Missouri House and Senate that would make it more difficult to prove discrimination cases against former employers.
At a news conference at the Missouri Capitol, the Legislative Black Caucus argued that the bill would roll back decades of civil rights progress while protecting wrongdoers by limiting damages that can be awarded if discrimination is proven.
“This legislation would be devastating to those who have been discriminated against in the workplace, and the Black Caucus is committed to fighting these bills every step of the way,” said Sen. Kiki Curls, a Democrat from Kansas City.
At issue is a pair of bills that each would require workers who claim discrimination in wrongful termination lawsuits to prove that bias was a “motivating” factor instead of a “contributing” factor, as mandated under current law. The change would make state law mirror the federal Civil Rights Act.
The bills also lower the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in an employment discrimination case.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed similar legislation last year.
The Senate began debating the measure last week, but a vote on the bill was blocked by the chamber’s only three African American members – Curls, Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City and Robin Wright-Jones of St. Louis.
After the Senate adjourned for the day last Wednesday, Chappelle-Nadal promised to continue blocking a vote on the bill for “as long as I’m standing.”
A version of the bill has cleared a House committee and could be taken up by the full House somtime this week.
“Gutting Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws would allow unscrupulous employers to do whatever they want to workers, for whatever reason they want, without fear of consequence,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “Missouri must not put profit ahead of people, and this legislation must not become law.”
Supporters of the bill say it would limit frivolous lawsuits and help create a friendlier business environment for the state. Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is simply a response to a series of court rulings that have altered employment law in the state in ways that lawmakers never intended.
Opponents have inaccurately portrayed what the bill does, Lager said, arguing that legitimate discrimination cases would not be deterred under his bill.
While there are procedures in the senate that could end the Democrats ability to stall the bill, Lager said he doubts those will be needed and expects the legislation to pass.