A controversial employment discrimination bill is being considered by a House committee.  The proposal would alter the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) which sets guidelines for workplace discrimination lawsuits.

Missouri capitol

Proposed changes include requiring 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 plaintiff in such cases would have to prove that actions by the employer were the direct cause of damages being claimed.

The bill would discontinue the current arrangement in which individual acting in the interest of employers are considered employers.  Those individuals could no longer be sued under the measure.

Punitive damages would largely be eliminated from being awarded, with limits mostly being held to actual damages.

During a February hearing, state Rep. Bill Lant (R-Pineville), who chairs the committee assigned the bill, would not let NAACP leader Rod Chapel finish his testimony.  Chapel called the proposal “hyped up Jim Crow”, which involved racial segregation laws in the 1960s.

Lant was heavily criticized for his actions at the time and told by House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) to schedule an additional hearing over the bill.

Supporters of the measure say it’s in line with a stronger federal standard, and note 48 other states have passed such bills.  Opponents say it moves the law backward to a time when discrimination was rampant.

The state Senate has passed the measure, known as Senate Bill 43. The House committee has not voted yet on the legislation.

Jason Taylor contributed to this story