The state House has passed a bill that would change the standard for proving workplace discrimination in Missouri.

Representative Kevin Elmer (photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Kevin Elmer (photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

HB 320 would bring Missouri more in line with the federal standard. It would require a worker filing a discrimination suit against an employer to prove discrimination was a “motivating,” or primary factor in a dismissal or other action. The state standard now requires only that it be a “contributing” factor.

The legislation’s sponsor, Representative Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa), says it’s needed because of what he calls a “liberalization” happening in Missouri court rulings that’s keeping some businesses from coming here.

“It’s gotten to the point where that whenever attorneys are filing claims on behalf of their clients for these employment discrimination claims, they’re filing them in Missouri because the standard of review is much lower in Missouri. What that does is that precludes a summary judgement from really being reviewed and entered in a case, and the bar is so low on that, employers are being subject to a couple years of litigation, extensive cost, in order to prove that they’re not liable in these claims.”

Democrats like Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis City) argue the bill makes it easier for employers to discriminate for things like race, age or religious beliefs.

“If the main reason why you fired me is because you’re a racist, that’s bad, but you can be a little bit of a racist and it’s not a big deal, because it wasn’t the motivating factor.”

The bill also restricts whistleblower protections to individuals who report violations. Representative Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) says that’s too narrow.

“You see something dumped in a stream. You see chemicals that you know aren’t supposed to go into the stream. One person says, ‘Hey, I’m going to make a call about this.’ That person is protected … they make the call. The DNR comes and talks to the other four, they say, ‘Yeah I saw it,’ they didn’t report it – they’re not protected.”

The proposal now goes to the Senate.