Missouri House Panel to Again Consider Workplace Discrimination

By | April 11, 2012

Missouri lawmakers appear poised to take up discrimination in the workplace again, in a possible attempt to get around a veto issued by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a measure in March that would have required workers who bring wrongful termination lawsuits to prove discrimination was a “motivating factor” — not simply a contributing factor — in the employer’s action. If an employer were to wrongfully discriminate, the legislation would have capped the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff could recover at $300,000 or less, depending on the size of their former employer.

The bill would have also capped punitive damages that could be paid to “whistleblowers” — people who report wrongdoing at their jobs.

House Republicans have said they don’t have enough votes to override the veto. The discrimination measure received 89 votes, just seven more than necessary to simply pass the House the first time.

But a House workforce development panel is considering two bills that could help the GOP get around the governor’s veto.

One measure contains only the “whistleblower” provisions of the vetoed bill.

The other measure is a Senate bill similar to the legislation Nixon vetoed. That bill could be used as a vehicle for some sort of legislative compromise that Republican leaders could pressure Nixon to sign.

The stand-alone whistleblower legislation could have a better chance at passage; Nixon’s veto message from March focused heavily on the civil rights’ impact of changing the law for discrimination suits.

Missouri lawmakers have six weeks left in this year’s session.

Nixon and Senate Democrats who filibustered the first discrimination bill have said one of their primary objections is the “motivating factor” provision. But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey have both said that provision is a key piece of the bill that likely can’t come out.

Lager, a candidate for lieutenant governor in the fall, has continually criticized Nixon as being absent from the legislative process.

Lager has said the onus is on Nixon to start negotiations with lawmakers on a new bill, even though Nixon appears to have achieved what he wanted by vetoing the earlier measure.

“We can get that done by the end of the session if he (Nixon) is willing to sit down with us and tell us where he stands on the legislation,” said Lager, R-Savannah.

Workplace discrimination bills are HB2099 and SB592

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