This week Missouri Senate Republicans are pushing a bill that would dull workplace discrimination laws. Most notably, the legislation states that a person who files a discrimination lawsuit against an employer must prove that discrimination was a "motivating factor," not just a "contributing factor," in the employer's action.
Opponents of the bill, mainly Democrats, argue that it strips away essential protections against workplace discrimination. State Senator Brad Lager, the bill's sponsor, counters that this legislation simply brings Missouri, which he claims has the most progressive discrimination law standards in the nation, in line with current federal discrimination laws.
"Everything in this law takes us back to the federal law that Martin Luther King Jr. applauded as it was signed," he said, according to the Associate Press. "To insinuate anything other than that is just not factual."
Of course, those anti-discrimination laws, originally passed in the '60s (and updated in 1991), had to survive a congress where members said things like, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states (Senator Richard Russell)," and "This so-called Civil Rights Proposals, which the President has sent to Capitol Hill for enactment into law, are unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extend beyond the realm of reason (Senator Strom Thurmond)."
The logic behind this roll back bill is rooted in economics. Supporters assert that it is business friendly. The proposed policy could decrease how much businesses have to pay for employment-practices liability insurance, which covers a company if it is sued for discrimination. After all, Missouri is trying to woo potential Job Creators. And there is no question company executives would rather operate in an atmosphere where the burden of proof for discrimination falls so heavily on the worker.
"It is easier to sue employers in Missouri than anywhere in the nation," Lager told Daily RFT. "No employer is going to move into a state when the probability
of them getting sued if going to be higher."
The difference, Lager adds, comes down to "the" versus "a." Currently, Missouri case law precedent favors the plaintiff if the plaintiff can prove that discrimination was "a" factor in an employer's action. Lager thinks a discrimination suit should only move forward if discrimination is "the" factor.
Facing a two-thirds Republican majority, Senate Democrats fought the bill with the only tool at their disposal, the filibuster. And it lasted for fifteen hours. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal led the Democrat defense, holding court for ten of those hours.
The Democrats ended the blockade and allowed the bill to advance at 1:20 a.m., after the Republicans agreed to amend the bill to give plaintiffs a better chance of reaching a jury trial by taking away from judges a degree of the decision-making power.
But the Dems aren't satisfied by this compromise. The bill must pass through another vote before moving to the House. And, after the session, Chappelle-Nadal told reporters that she intends to block the bill as long as it waters down the standards for workplace discrimination laws. She and others also have issue with the $300,000 cap the policy places on punitive damage awards in discrimination suits.
"I plan to do whatever I need to do to make sure that motivating and contributing factor is dealt with," she said, according to the AP. "We're not ok with the bill, even with the changes that I made today. We're not ok with it at all."
Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year. Republicans have a veto proof majority in the Senate but not in the House.
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