A group of Democratic lawmakers has sharply criticized a controversial discrimination measure which cleared the legislature Tuesday night.
The bill, which is being sent to Governor Greitens desk stiffens the benchmark for employees to prove workplace discrimination.
Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) distributed an open letter to Governor Greitens at a news conference Wednesday in which she called on him to veto the legislation (known as Senate Bill 43).
In it, she references the string of harassment cases from the state prison scandal, saying bad behavior needs to be exposed rather than made more difficult to discover.
The legislation modifies language in the Missouri Human Rights Act. Currently, a practice is unlawful when a person’s protected class is a “contributing” factor in a decision to discriminate.
Under the federal standard, the person’s protected status would have to be a “motivating” factor in the discrimination.
Supporters of the measure say it aligns the state with the federal threshold, although it would appear to actually go further, by requiring the person’s status to be “the” motivating factor.
In her letter to Greitens, Nasheed said “I know you are a man of character and conviction who believes that a person should not be discriminated against based on their religion, gender, race or sexual orientation. I ask that you now put those values into action and veto the discriminatory Senate Bill 43.”
For his part, Greitens has made it a priority for Missouri’s courts to be more business friendly. Those interests, led by the Missouri Chamber, are strongly supportive of the measure along with other bills that make it harder to prove wrongdoing in the workplace.
If Greitens signs the legislation, as many expect, Nasheed says legal steps could be taken against. “I actually believe and I truly want that to happen” said Nasheed. “I think that the NAACP is looking at it, the legal defense component of their organization. And the ACLU is looking at it. And so I am of great belief that if it happens where the governor signs this into law, that it will go into the courts.”
Nasheed was joined at the news conference by eight other Democratic lawmakers. Senator Scott Sifton of Affton claims the measure goes farther than two others discrimination bills that were successfully vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon.
Sifton says a key difference, in addition to raising the burden of proof, is that it limits the target of a discrimination lawsuit to the employer.
“The only types of people that you can sue under this law for discrimination are the company that employs, not the actual individual discriminator, not the person who signs the evaluation or the pink slip” said Sifton. “Nobody, no people, no human being can be sued under employment discrimination law in Missouri if this bill becomes law.”
Sifton further calls the measure the worst piece of legislation he’s seen in his seven years in Jefferson City.
“The majority of Missourians are members of a protected class. This bill hurts everybody over age 50. This bill hurts every woman. This bill hurts every member of a minority religion, and even potentially members of majority religions.” Sifton says the bill’s language goes so far as to limit protections for people who oppose abortion.
House member Alan Green (D-Florissant), who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said he spoke to supporters of the Measure, including Speaker of the House Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff). Green disagrees with their assessment of the legislation as just simple policy.
“This is not simple policy” Green said. “Anytime you make something harder, when you do something wrong to be punished, it is not simple policy.”
The measure passed the House with 98 votes. It was opposed by numerous Republicans, including some who joined many Democrats in declining to vote. Those lawmakers were tallied as “absent with leave” on the floor of the House.