LETTER: Missouri Human Rights Act modification will weaken civil rights

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 | 4:03 p.m. CDT; updated 9:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I was born with muscular dystrophy and have worked in Missouri since I left home at the age of 18. My story is not common. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is among the highest in the nation. Last week, SB 188, which seeks to modify the law relating to the Missouri Human Rights Act and employment discrimination, was delivered to Gov. Nixon for his signature. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, said he wants "Missouri employees to be protected from employers who break the law" by "raising our standards to meet the provisions set out in the historic Civil Rights Act."

This bill touted as "raising standards" does nothing of the kind, but instead weakens the civil rights of many people, specifically individuals with disabilities. Currently, it is unlawful when a protected trait (i.e., disability) is a contributing factor in the decision to discriminate, but SB 188 will change the wording to read motivating factor, eliminating some of the current protection for employees. In addition, whistle-blower protection is lessened, punitive damages caps are put into place, and the definition of employer is modified so individual liability for discrimination is absent.

Contributing to society and paying taxes should not be a unique story for an individual with a disability. Let's support legislation that creates jobs for all Missouri employees. Let Gov. Nixon know you support his position to veto SB 188.

Aimee Wehmeier is the executive director of Services for Independent Living.

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