Gov. Jay Nixon reviewing Missouri workplace discrimination bill

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 4:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri House leaders say they want an opportunity to discuss workplace discrimination legislation with Gov. Jay Nixon, but it's not clear the Democratic governor is willing to negotiate.

The Republican-led legislature last week passed and sent to the governor a measure that would alter the rules for lawsuits based upon claims of discrimination in the workplace. Nixon vetoed a similar measure last year, and Republican House leaders said they want to discuss possible changes that would prompt the governor to allow this year's measure to take effect.

Nixon said Tuesday his office is reviewing the legislation but that it does not seem "fundamentally different" from last year's version. The governor said in February that Missouri's workforce is becoming more diverse, and employees need to have confidence that they will be protected from discrimination.

Nixon highlighted his opposition to last year's legislation by announcing the veto during a rally at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis where the Dred Scott trial on slavery was held.

Under the legislation, workers who bring wrongful termination lawsuits would need to demonstrate that discrimination was a "motivating factor" in the employer's action and not just a contributing factor. The changes would apply to other discrimination cases, such as claims for the denial of promotion.

If employers were found to discriminate, the punitive damages that could be collected would be tied to the number of employees at the company with a cap of $300,000. Political subdivisions, such as city governments, would not be liable for any punitive damages.

Supporters of the legislation contend the changes are designed to better align state discrimination laws with federal law.

House Speaker Steven Tilley said he still hopes Nixon will sign this year's bill. If the legislation is vetoed, Tilley said House Republicans want to discuss possible changes with Nixon that could allow a revised version to pass before the legislature's mandatory mid-May adjournment.

"We hope it brings him to the table," said Tilley, R-Perryville.

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