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Nixon condemns legislation that would change Missouri discrimination law

Monday, April 25, 2011 | 7:19 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spoke out Monday against legislation that would make it harder for employees to prove they were fired because of discrimination.

In a statement, the governor condemned a measure given final approval earlier this month by the House. It would require workers who claim discrimination in wrongful firing lawsuits to prove that bias was a "motivating" factor, not just a "contributing" factor as is now the case. The measure would also limit the damages fired workers could recover.

Nixon said those changes would hurt people who had already been victims of discrimination.

"(The bill) would throw new hurdles in the path of those whose rights have been violated," Nixon said. "That is unacceptable."

The measure passed the House and Senate earlier this month and is now awaiting the governor's signature or veto. Nixon said he will take official action on the bill Friday.

In addition to changing the legal standard fired employees must meet, the legislation also would limit punitive damages, ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 depending on the size of the company.

Similar limits would apply to whistle-blowers, people who report incidents of discrimination to state authorities, if they sue their employer for retaliating against them.

The legislation is one of six pro-business changes that the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has lobbied legislators to make this session. Monday, chamber president Daniel Mehan said he disagreed that the legislation would make it easier for companies to discriminate.

"What we're trying to do is use the same standards that are used in federal court," Mehan said. "Under the current situation, employers are guilty until proven innocent."

Instead, Mehan said the measure corrects an overreach by Missouri courts, which set the "contributing factor" standard in 2007.

"All it is (doing) is correcting what the courts did, and it was overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate," Mehan said. "This is a priority and we hope the governor doesn't turn his back on it."

Supporters in the legislature have said added certainty for business will lead to economic growth for the state.

Nixon challenged that assertion in his statement, saying the legislation would allow companies to discriminate against minorities and people with disabilities without creating any new jobs.

"To thrive in a global economy and uphold the values we share, we must be a state that continues to move forward — not backward — when it comes to civil rights and equal opportunity," he said.


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