JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Friday signed legislation to make it tougher to prove workplace and housing discrimination in court, a move lauded by business groups but decried by groups such as the state NAACP.
Greitens said he’s met with advocates on both sides of the legislation. But he ultimately sided with businesses groups, who have said it’s now too easy to sue for discrimination and say the change will bring Missouri in line with standards that Greitens said are used in “38 other states and the federal government.”
The new law is slated to take effect Aug. 28. It will require people suing for discrimination to prove that a protected class such as race, gender, age or ability was “the motivating factor” for disciplinary action from an employer. Under current law, employees must only prove that their protected class contributed to an employer’s decision to fire, discipline or refuse to hire them.
The measure also sets caps for the amount of damages an employer must pay based on the size of the company and prohibits people from suing some individuals, such as a supervisor, for discrimination.
The law will apply to lawsuits over claims of discrimination in housing and public accommodations, as well.
The state NAACP cited the legislation along with other issues, including a recent attorney general’s report that shows black Missouri drivers last year were 75 percent more likely to be stopped than whites in issuing a travel advisory against the state. Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel has said the organization is considering calling for a full boycott of the state but on Friday said that’s “a serious conversation” that will take time.
Chapel said he met last week with Greitens to discuss the bill, but they disagreed on “whether civil rights need to be stripped down to their bare bones in order to protect business people of the ramifications of their poor conduct.” Chapel also said he disagrees that the law will simply bring Missouri in line with federal standards and called that “disingenuous.”
Democrats also slammed the measure. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said Greitens has “reversed decades of civil right progress in Missouri and relegated minorities to the status of second-class citizens.”
“With the Missouri Human Rights Act gutted, employers who want to engage in illegal workplace discrimination will have no fear of being held accountable,” she said. “While SB 43 might not quite return us to the days when businesses were free to hang `minorities need not apply’ signs in the window, it certainly reinforces the sentiment.”
But the move was touted by some of the state’s most influential business groups as a way to help improve the state’s legal climate for businesses.
“This new law ends a decade-long period where Missouri was one of the easiest places in the nation to sue a company and win,” Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Daniel Mehan said in a statement.
The law is one of many passed this year by the Republican-led Legislature with support from Greitens that seek to put limits on lawsuits and help businesses.
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