Word out of Jefferson City is that House Republicans are having trouble coming up with the votes to pass a bill that would make it tougher to prove discrimination cases against former employers.
That’s good because the legislation lawmakers are considering is deeply flawed, both in its central mission and as a result of the personal entanglements of the lawmaker who’s sponsoring the measure.
Senate Bill 43 passed the Senate 23-9 and is now awaiting a vote in the House with just a handful of days before lawmakers adjourn. If it’s enacted, workers who claim discrimination in wrongful termination lawsuits would have to prove that bias was the explicit reason they were fired. That’s a much tougher standard than current law, which requires proof only that bias was a contributing factor.
The legislation also would weaken whistleblower laws, removing protections for state workers. And it would reduce the amount of punitive damages that any employee who’s a victim of workplace discrimination could receive.
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An amendment that’s causing heartburn in both parties would allow workers to sue only the company that fired them and not the person accused of acting in a discriminatory way. Another amendment that has led to a delay in a vote would let employers fire hospital workers who refuse to assist in abortions.
Republicans insist the measure would rebalance the employer-employee scales, which they say lean too far in the direction of workers. The measure is yet another in a long line of pro-business bills that the Republican-led General Assembly has considered this year.
But Democrats, such as Rep. DaRon McGee of Kansas City, rightly point out that such a move would roll back civil rights protections in the state by more than half a century.
“That single vote would hit the reset button on decades of progress on combating racial and sex discrimination in Missouri,” he wrote recently.
His concern is well placed. The legislation would allow employers who mistreat their workers in egregious ways to get away with it. That’s not where Missouri wants to be.
The second troubling aspect of this law is the motivation of its chief sponsor, Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican who owns a chain of furniture stores. An employee is suing his company because she says a store manager targeted her with racial slurs. Members of both parties have seized on that as a sign that Romine has ulterior motives.
Romine says that’s not the case. But the General Assembly needs to back away from this measure before it does serious damage to Missouri’s image — and to the state’s protections for workers.