After two lengthy days of a Democratic filibuster, the state Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would make it harder to sue businesses for discrimination. The measure would require those suing to prove that race, religion, sex or another protected class was a motivating factor for discrimination or being fired, not just a contributing factor.
The bill is one of many liability lawsuit proposals moving through the GOP-controlled legislature this session in an effort to reign in on what Republicans say is a mounting number of frivolous lawsuits.
Republicans say the measure would improve Missouri’s business and legal landscapes. Bill sponsor Gary Romine (R) of eastern Missouri’s Farmington also says he wants to align Missouri law with federal standards.
“Our entire intent has never been to support, or promote or allow discrimination to take place in this great state of Missouri. Our intent in this bill is to make sure we have a standard established that is fair and balanced for the employee and employer alike to have an opportunity to have a good, solid work environment in our state,” says Romine.
Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) passionately contends that the legislation is offensive.
“We’re going back to discrimination laws we had in 1961 when this country was a very different place. Where does that put us in 2017 to go all the way back? Where does that put us? This is like beyond me that we would even be having this discussion today, to go back to discrimination laws of 1961,” says Curls. “Are you serious? Are you really, really serious? This is where we are. This is embarrassing.”
Romine’s proposal also would stop employees from suing their co-workers and limit punitive damages in such lawsuits.
During a press conference Tuesday, Missouri NAACP leader Nimrod Chapel called such workplace discrimination lawsuit proposals “hyped up Jim Crow”. Jim Crow laws involved racial segregation until the mid-1960s.
What we’ve seen going on in the Missouri legislature has been a denial of citizenship to people,” said Chapel. “At the point where you say that all people are not created equal. That some people can be mistreated. That some people can be silenced. I think that the Democratic process itself is in question.”
During a Missouri House hearing two weeks ago, Chapel testified that a similar measure “is nothing but Jim Crow”. During that hearing, the chairman of the committee, Rep. Bill Lant (R-Pineville), turned Chapel’s mic off and prevented him from continuing to testify.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) has asked Lant to reschedule that hearing to allow testimony to continue. During a recent NAACP event at the Missouri Capitol, Richardson said Chapel is always welcome to testify. The committee hearing has not been rescheduled at this time.
The bill needs one more favorable vote to move to the House.