Missouri lawmakers consider redefining workplace discrimination

Missouri legislators are considering a proposal to change the way that employment discrimination is defined under state law, making it easier for companies to fire workers without fear of liability.

If passed, House Bill 320 would scale back the employee protections set forth in the Missouri Human Rights Act. Under the new law, a firing or other negative employment action taken against a worker in the state would constitute illegal discrimination only if discrimination was a motivating factor in the decision. Current state law requires only that discrimination be a contributing factor in such decisions.

Federal law, in contrast, protects only against actions that are motivated by discrimination - meaning that Missouri's existing anti-discrimination standards are stricter than the minimum protections set forth by the federal government. While individual states may supplement federal law by providing additional protections at the state level, they are not permitted to undercut federal minimums.

Proposed changes spark controversy

Supporters of the reform proposal say that Missouri's current discrimination law is taking a toll on the state's economy. Some argue that the existing law may discourage companies from doing business in Missouri due to concerns about potential litigation costs.

On the other hand, opponents of the proposed law argue that it would dramatically reduce the legal remedies available to people affected by employment discrimination in Missouri, letting employers off the hook for discriminatory practices. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon struck down similar legislation in 2012 and 2011, St. Louis Public Radio reported.

Existing protections for Missouri employees

Workers in Missouri are protected under state and federal laws against discrimination or harassment in the workplace on the basis of:

  • Race or color
  • Religion
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Gender (including sexual harassment)
  • Disability
  • Age

These laws prohibit discrimination not only in hiring and firing decisions, but also in any other aspect of employment. Thus, workplace discrimination is illegal with regard to things like compensation, promotion, recruitment, fringe benefits or any other terms or conditions of employment. In addition, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for opposing a discriminatory practice, filing a discrimination claim or participating in an investigation or hearing.

Legal remedies for workplace discrimination in Missouri

People who are fired or suffer other negative employment consequences as a result of illegal discrimination in Missouri are encouraged to speak with an experienced employment lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can help workers assess whether their rights may have been violated and provide a thorough discussion of the legal options that may be available to remedy the situation.