Legislation pending in the Missouri House of Representatives is just one vote away from rolling back civil rights protections in our state by more than 50 years. That single vote would hit the reset button on decades of progress in combating racial and sex discrimination in Missouri.
The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodation based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status. Senate Bill 43 would impose so many new hurdles to suing employers for discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Act as to essentially lock the courthouse doors to victims and protect wrongdoers from being held accountable for their unlawful actions.
SB 43 is explicitly designed to make workplace discrimination lawsuits more difficult to bring forward. Legislation that would make it more difficult to redeem one’s rights for improper treatment based upon an intrinsic characteristic — those characteristics that are the reflection of each individual. The public policy implication of this bill makes it harder to prove discrimination and raises the burden of proof for the victim.
The bill has already cleared the Senate and could be brought up for House passage at any time before the 2017 legislative session ends on May 12. If the House passes it without making changes, SB 43 will go straight to Gov. Eric Greitens to be signed into law or vetoed.
One of the more troubling aspects concerning SB 43 is that its sponsor, state Sen. Gary Romine, a Republican from Farmington, is currently being sued for racial discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Acts, the very law he is trying to render unenforceable.
Romine owns Show-Me Rent-to-Own, a chain of stores located throughout southeast Missouri. A black former account manager at the company’s Sikeston store sued in 2015, saying that she was fired after complaining about a white supervisor’s use of racial slurs and the store’s unwritten policy refusing to rent to residents of the city’s predominantly black neighborhood.
The claims in the lawsuit are disturbing, including that the supervisor made statements such as “Quit acting like a (N-word),” “What’s up my (N-word)” and “Black people are the worst to work with.”
The case remains pending in Scott County Circuit Court. If the allegations are true, this is just the sort of workplace discrimination the Missouri Human Rights Act is designed to prohibit. But the hurdles erected by SB 43 would mean that employers could engage in such foul behavior with little fear of being held accountable.
Romine’s sponsorship of SB 43 is a clear conflict of interest and akin to a lawmaker charged with drunken driving filing legislation to weaken the state’s DWI laws. This abuse of the authority of his office for personal gain is exactly the sort of self-dealing behavior that helps build Missourians’ distrust in state government.
I refuse to place my dignity, honor, and oath on the line for this corrupt and audacious display of abuse by Sen. Romine. House Republicans should uphold the fundamental notions of fairness and right and wrong that the Missouri Human Rights Act exists to defend and let SB 43 die without further action.
DaRon McGee represents south Kansas City in the Missouri House of Representatives.